I handle all health insurance matters in my family, so it falls to me to contact our insurer whenever there’s a question.
Undoubtedly, the person I talk do is competent, knowledgeable and answers my questions the first time. However, getting to that competent, knowledgeable person requires traversing a Byzantine number of obstacles designed to keep me from talking to a live person. Did you call about things not related to health insurance, the voice interactive response system asks? Here’s another number. Did you try the web? Here’s the URL.
This is the same insurance we’ve had for 18 years, and the maze seemingly gets more complicated each time I call. If I could answer the question on the internet, I’d have taken that route, as nearly everyone would.
Good customer service shouldn’t be encircled by traps designed to discourage engagement. Rather, it should be baked into everything a company does.
Attitude over aptitude
And it starts with hiring the right people, perhaps even hiring for attitude over aptitude. A friend of mine is a turnaround specialist for a franchisee for a national casual dining restaurant chain. Management is constantly amazed at how he can take an underperforming store and transform it in a few months. What’s his secret? Hiring friendly faces who can learn the restaurant’s systems.
How many times have you been in a retail outlet and seen clerks and cashiers on their phones. Unless you just walked into an AT&T or Comcast store, employees should be focused on their tasks and their customers—not their phones.
I’ve seen checkout clerks look at their phones during transactions and alleged security guards who are so engrossed in their phones they wouldn’t notice someone in a balaclava and toting an Uzi entering the store. If it’s a store that I frequent, I’ll ask for a manager and point out these customer service failings.
It’s really that simple
Although this happened 15 years ago, I remember calling a large natural resource extraction company for an article I was working on. I fully expected the ubiquitous phone tree and was delighted when an actual person answered the phone. I asked the person if this was normal procedure at the company. “We think it’s important for everyone to receive personal attention,” she said.
And it’s true. While we are all accustomed to ordering online, using tap-and-go payment methods and moving down the sales funnel ourselves, the personal touch still counts.
Take a step back and look at your company as an outsider. How easy is it to contact a live person by either phone or email? If there is a phone tree, how hard is it to navigate? If you have to leave a voicemail, is the message from the person you’re trying to contact current and relevant? Is the person’s voicemail box full (a personal pet peeve of mine). And does that person actually call/email you back within a reasonable amount of time? How hard are you to contact?
Regardless of where you fit in the corporate pecking order, the way you handle communications with peers, subordinates and superiors gets noticed. So how do you want to be remembered? As the person who gets back quickly with the requested information or the person who has to be contacted repeatedly?
It’s a choice we all make, every day.