All too often, we as consumers are faced with bad customer service. Be it from staff that aren’t interested in the success of their place of employment, from business owners that have given up on trying to make an effort, or from telephone call centres that are not interested in the needs and wants of the consumer.
It’s infuriating! I would like to think that I am usually a pretty calm sort of guy, who doesn’t let emotion take over too much (dealing with my 4 kids aged 8, 7, 4 & 3 might be the exception though). But you will see a Hulk-like transformation start to unfold if my internet is to suddenly drop out, and I am stuck on the phone for the next 2 hours trying to resolve the issue with someone that has no appreciation for customer service.
This exact scene played out for me earlier this year. Operating a home business, the internet is my life-blood (as it is for a lot of businesses). Planned outages are inconvenient, but can be worked around if you are given plenty of forewarning. But unplanned outages can wreak havoc!
This particular day was not unlike any other day, with a long list of things to get through, and the pressure of deadlines looming. All this changed at around 10am when I lost all internet connection. Having spent several years working in programming and developing tech solutions, I drew upon this experience and started the in-depth trouble-shooting that most IT experts would take you through….I turned my modem off at the power point, waited a few seconds and turned it back on.
When this resulted in no change to my situation I had to escalate the issue, and so rang Telstra. My first aim was to find out if work was being done on the line, which I thought would be the best result, as it meant nothing was wrong at my end.
My customer service experience started well with the phone operator stating that, yes it is very annoying when we lose internet and he would look to see what the problem was. He then informed me that there was in fact work being done on the line. At the time, I thought this was good news, and so followed up with asking how many hours I wouldn’t have the internet for…..the response….. 3 weeks!
This started the downturn in my customer service experience. I was then passed around to a few different people, none of which could give me a straight answer or showed any concern for the impact that this would have on my business. The end solution offered was that I should go ‘purchase’ (i.e. at a cost to me!) an internet dongle and Telstra would give me a few MB of data for free. I was told though that they wouldn’t charge me for my home internet usage for the month….i.e. the internet that I couldn’t access anyway!! How thoughtful of them.
In not one of my finest moments, the phone conversation ended fairly abruptly.
But this story does have a happy ending, and one that left me with a positive feeling towards Telstra.
Feeling very lost, and still trying to figure out what a ‘dongle’ was, I headed to the local Telstra store. Speaking to someone face to face made a huge difference and the staff couldn’t do enough to resolve the issue I had. They listened to my concerns, understood the impact that this would have on my business, and presented a solution to me that would get me out of trouble. I still had to pay for the dongle, but I felt much better parting with my money when I knew that the staff were fully committed to addressing my concerns.
The final twist in this story is that by the time I returned home, the internet was back working again! The 3-week issue had ended up being a 3-hour issue. If only someone could have told me that from the start, this whole experience would have been different.
But again, to the credit of the local Telstra store, I took the dongle back, and although they couldn’t refund my purchase, they were able to offset the costs by giving me some discounts on some things that they did have control over. I walked out of the store with money back in my pocket, a smile on my face, and a dongle (and who doesn’t need one of them!!).
To be fair, the poor guys on the phone at Telstra possibly copped a raw deal from me that day, and I appreciate there is little that they personally could do. To add to this, maybe it was originally thought to be a 3-week issue, but they were able to solve it quickly, so it ended up being a 3-hour problem. Plus Telstra is usually pretty good at giving warning about any outages.
What was missing on the phone though was a genuine personal connection from the customer service team, and an urgency to find a solution that would work for me. This is exactly what I got through the face to face experience and resulted in turning a negative experience into a positive one.
My intention here was not to have a rant about Telstra, but just use this as an example of the important role that customer service can play in any shopping experience.
I think that customer service is one of the easiest ways for local businesses to not only attract, but more importantly retain local customers. It can be as easy as greeting your potential customers with a smile, listening to their needs and trying to work out the best solution for them (which sometimes could even lead you to send them to a competitor’s store if that is going to produce the best outcome for the customer).
For those with staff, the task becomes a little more difficult as they need to instill these same values across all those that are representing the business to ensure the consistent delivery of service. This starts with how staff are treated, as well as how much staff are brought into the decision making process for the business. It also depends on how well staff are encouraged and rewarded for going above and beyond a normal level of service delivery.
Staff that feel like their contribution makes a difference to how the business operates, and who get praised for their great customer service, are going to be just as motivated as the business operator to ensure that the customer receives a positive shopping experience.
Local stores can be the kings of customer service. They have the advantage of personally knowing a lot of their customers, and hence are able to offer them added benefits, both in-store and outside of the store.
Customer service is something that also needs to be worked on continuously, as positive experiences can slowly build loyalty, but it only takes one or two negative experiences to undo this hard work.
And to conclude, yes I still use Telstra, my internet is fine, and my dongle is now great for when I travel around the country.