CUSTOMER SERVICE IS NOT A DEPARTMENT

As he entered the banking hall, he marveled at the beauty of the interior décor. Obviously, this would be a good bank to operate an account with. He patiently took in the allure of the enchanting ambiance that made you feel like Alice in Wonderland. Instantly, he took two decisions in his mind in addition to his primary purpose of visiting. He had gone there to obtain the forms and prospectus for the bank’s Initial Public Offer that was in the market. Enraptured by what he saw, he decided there and then that he would open an account with the bank as well as apply for a margin loan which the bank was offering for the purchase of its own shares. He walked up to someone on the counter to make enquiries and he was promptly directed to the Customer Service Department. The desk was manned by a lady whose countenance was completely at variance with the environment in which she was operating. She clinically motioned him to a seat without as much as a smile, in a manner that suggested that his presence was a rude intrusion into her schedule, while she took her time to finish with whatever she was doing on a piece of paper. When she was done, her shot was straight:

“Yes, how may I help you?” she said with such detachment that it sounded more like a memory verse than an expression of a desire to help. After he had explained to her his reasons for coming, the lady handed him two sets of forms, the IPO form and the account opening form. She spoke in monotones and all her motions looked very rehearsed and decidedly plastic. At a point, the customer began to feel like he was actually a bother. As for the enquiry on the margin loan, he was directed to another officer who was no less discomfiting. In fact, the lady was a breath of fresh air compared to this officer. He was writing something and did not even offer him a seat until he was done. When he eventually asked him to sit down, he looked at him with a stare that seemed to bore a hole in the skin. With a completely bland expression on his face, he explained the conditions attached to the loan and ended on a note that suggested, “Now that you know, are you taking it or not so I can get back to what I was doing?”

As the customer got up to leave, he recalled the claims and the promise ensconced in the bank’s adverts and billboards, took one more look at the environment and tried without success to reconcile the image with the experience he just had. The variance was too pronounced. He left with the promise of never returning – and he informed as many of his friends as possible!

Unpleasant experiences are all too familiar with so-called Customer Service Departments in various corporate organizations. That department in many corporate establishments seems to be set up more as part of the corporate brand image projection than an actual corporate desire to go the extra mile to see that the customer is served or his legitimate concerns adequately addressed. This is why many of the people who man that desk are females employed and positioned on the desk more for their seductive propensities than their competence in relationship management. And if you are unfortunate to meet them when they are heavily pregnant, God have mercy on you!

The well-worn aphorism that where purpose is not known, abuse is inevitable surely holds true here. It is obvious that many entrepreneurs do not know the purpose of a Customer Service Department or they feel that once they have followed the corporate fad of having one, every other person in the organization is absolved of responsibility for actually serving the customer. This is why any little complaint about the quality of service rendered gets the complainant promptly and almost always clinically referred to that bored officer who mans the desk!

I wish all corporate organizations would come to the realization that if they want to shore up their brand equity, customer loyalty is the key. It has been proven over and over again that repeat customers are the livewire of any business. Sometimes, the things that are simple yet fundamental are neglected in order to espouse some high-falluting academic concepts that can only fuel intellectual polemics in an ivory tower but are of no real value in the real world of transactions where the rubber meets the road.

A dissatisfied customer only returns to do business with you until a more meaningful and considerate POSITIVE ALTERNATIVE (which you so naively call competitor) shows up. Whenever he finds that alternative, he drops you like bad news! Customers may be attracted by hype and colourful adverts and billboards but their loyalty is retained by their EXPERIENCE with the product or service you are offering! Increasing customer base without reengineering customer service delivery is nothing but an exercise in data collection. If you can’t keep them, you don’t have them! A disgruntled customer does more potential damage to the organization than bad press.

Consequently, the organization that wants to thrive in the emerging marketplace must of necessity become very proactive in its approach to customer service and retention. It must know and exemplify the fact that customer service is not just a department in the organization manned by some corporately dressed but grumpily seated officers. CUSTOMER SERVICE IS A CULTURE! It is something that runs through the entire gamut of the organization. It begins at the gate of the premises. Valuable businesses have been lost because of the attitude of a gateman who thinks that his number one assignment is to shut people out of the premises! If you have ever been drilled at the gate of an establishment that is supposed to offer certain products and services to the public, you will understand what I mean.

Have you ever had your clothes torn by a protruding nail in the waiting area of a company while you were waiting to see an officer relevant to your enquiry? It happens every so often in many corporate organizations.

Where customer service is actually enthroned as the culture of the house, everyone from the CEO to the most innocuous staff understands that once a customer or potential customer walks in through the door, a king has just come to visit his subjects! As the ruler of the terrain, even if only for some brief moments, he desires – in fact demands – to be served!

It’s not only the gardener or the gateman that owes his salary to the customer. Even the CEO does (even much more). Or how else does his fat salary as well as the accompanying bonuses add up? Any CEO that is cocooned in his office, too busy to see that the very reasons for the business is satisfied, has lost his right to that exalted office! Legitimate greatness comes through service! How many CEOs have personally addressed or signed a birthday card to a customer apart from the generic mails that mostly end up in the Spam Box of our e-mail addresses?

There are four basic rules of customer service:

  •  The customer is the employer. So he is KING and only in treating him like one do our bills get paid!
     The customer is always right
     The customer is never wrong
     When in doubt, refer to rules 1-3!

I wish these rules could be printed, framed and hung on every wall in every establishment that serves people in any capacity.

Even if your customer is taking nonsense, you do not say that to his face. If you can’t make a customer your friend, by all means, please do not make him your enemy! He will soon amass some allied forces against you and the business. When a gateman, driver, clerk, Secretary or anyone else for that matter insults a customer, it is the organization that has insulted him, not a person! If the organization spends as much money as it spends on those lavish Executive Retreats on training all categories of staff to master the rules stated above, the business will sustainably thrive.

When excellence becomes a culture, there is no end to greatness!

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!

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