Good customer service: what not to do

We’ve all been at the receiving end of poor customer service. But what is it that makes service so poor, and how can companies improve?

For service operators whose customer relations are conducted by phone or internet, consistent messaging across ongoing interactions is critical. One of the things that most frustrates customers is receiving contradictory information from multiple representatives of a single company. That means customer service, like the tip of a corporate iceberg, must start far deeper than just the final consumer touchpoint. A joined-up service requires a company itself be wholly joined up.

Here are some instructive examples of horror-show customer service interactions I have received in the last few weeks, while moving home and switching services. They are intended to help companies improve by learning from failings at some of the UK’s biggest providers.

Log every interaction

Last month, I bought an EE mobile SIM and separate iPhone 5 for test. After deciding to stick with each, I quit T-Mobile, requesting a PAC number-porting code. However, EE later told me it cannot port numbers from T-Mobile since the two are part of the very same company, and would instead need to do an internal migration.

What’s more, it said I would have to open a second EE account, comprising the same package, to receive the old number. No matter: a representative I believed was in Merthyr promised that credits would be placed on my account to offset the payment required to close the first, now-superfluous EE account.

Now that the second EE SIM has arrived, I have switched my old T-Mobile number over, but another representative in Greenock requires I pay out a 30-day notice period on my superfluous SIM. The previous representative left no notes on my account that logged her credit promise. What’s more, the rep who made that promise is, I am told, based not in Merthyr but in South Africa, an off-shore centre the Greenock rep says UK company staff have no ability to contact for verification.

Now I face paying duplicate bills with the same company, and I have a smaller monthly allowance than previously, all because I wanted to stay loyal, and because EE can’t communicate with itself.

The lesson: If providers do not have the empathy to leverage goodwill toward customers that wish to stay within the family, representatives throughout the chain must record every interaction and promised action so as not to disappoint. Every agent must be incentivised to log all customer communication in their employer’s customer-relationship management system, and companies must open the internal communication flows across all consumer-facing offices.

Sing from the same hymn sheet

To service new bills at my new address, I wanted to open a dedicated additional Barclays bank account. Two separate telephone agents told me I could walk in to my local branch uninvited with necessary ID to get set up. On arrival, however, bank staff said this was not the case; an advance appointment had to have been made, and I had to return 24 hours later. Having to make two trips, you can understand my displeasure.

The lesson: Such inconsistencies put customers in conflict with staff – an uncomfortable fact for both parties. Remove this pain point by conducting a top-to-bottom review of day-to-day service tasks to ensure that all corners of your company have the same understanding of execution norms.

Don’t give conflicting financial advice

Having inherited a British Gas dual fuel supply at my new address, I initially received excellent personal service with an individual representative assigned to my account set up over interactions spanning several weeks, email and phone (take note: personal service is a winner).

However, when I decided to commit to a 12-month contract that, he advised, would be cheaper than the inherited standard tariff, another representative told me entirely the contrary. This goes against the advice of the utility industry – that switching from standard is essential. Regardless, a third representative says the first has also set me up on a long-defunct and overly costly tariff.

The lesson: Companies that can’t give straight advice about how to achieve the best prices scare customers’ horses. If you inject consistency into any part of your customer messaging, make it the subject of money. Not doing so reduces confidence that your company knows what it’s doing. Failing to do so at the exact time a prospect is seeking to become a customer is off-putting.