Customer Service Optional – The Computer Says No!

You may well know this brilliant turn of phrase from the infamous Little Britain comedy sketches. However, this is a real life customer service ‘nasty’, albeit in very abbreviated form to be of more general interest with some real learning points!

Does your system drive your people or do your people drive your system?

This is a really fundamental question, don’t you think? Why?…Because….if your company or organisation has this the wrong way round, then your people are forced to behave in a certain way to meet the requirements of your system, rather than your system having to meet the requirements of your people and business. Does this make sense for good customer service? It seems logical to me, so highly illogical that it could take three months to get a new mobile phone upgrade resolved!

Corporate silos

Can you imagine a situation where you find an error on your mobile phone bill and call to discuss which then causes a chain reaction of different departments being unwilling to help? ‘This was the fault of the store, so you will have to go back there to resolve this‘. ‘We can’t help‘, ‘you must‘, ‘we don’t’ and ‘no you can’t speak to a manager, as they will tell you the same thing‘, were responses thrown back at me repeatedly. Are you not one and the same company? The bills say so but the call centre clearly thinks differently, as passing the blame to another part of the company is the way they do things around here!

Reactive and inconsistent customer service

Isn’t it galling that only the threat of making a formal complaint spurs some action in many organisations? All of a sudden the same unhelpful call centre person calls you back immediately with a ‘peace offering and a special upgrade deal’.  Not exactly consistent customer service, is it?

The upgrade department couldn’t have been more helpful and all was looking good until my agreed ongoing loyalty discount was conveniently overlooked. This was finally sorted and I had a potentially excellent new contract lined up, or so I thought! Bad move on my part as I followed the advice and did go back to the store, as I like the human touch, which was why I went there previously and they had been most helpful. Not so this time, as they checked on their computer and ‘couldn’t possibly offer the same deal to me in the store but they could give me a phone to contact the call centre’. Yet again, the computer says ‘no‘ and customer service was ‘optional!’

After a long and heated exchange and finally managing to speak to a ‘supervisor’, I was told that ‘we cannot have made such an offer’, which eventually changed to ‘the upgrade offer was only available from the person you spoke to on the day you originally called’. Was this ever mentioned? Of course not! Still I had their word that they would email the people I had previously spoken with and we agreed a date and time I would receive a call back to resolve things.

And so the days and weeks went by and Christmas came and went. Despite repeated messages and making a formal complaint the call still never came. I am a very patient person and I still had a phone that was working on a good tariff, so it wasn’t critical, just highly frustrating, unnecessary and downright inefficient!

How to get action!

Here’s the thing…. if you want action it appears that you have to make a complaint against how your complaint is being handled! This is now the third example I have come across recently, where action only happened after taking this route faced with problems in large organisations. Remarkable, don’t you think? Whatever happened to the Customer Service department taking your complaint seriously first time round? Do they hope that people will go away if they don’t respond? It would seem so.

Resolution or…...

The day of reckoning finally came and lo and behold a helpful human being who was keen to resolve my crazy saga. I finally received a call to confirm that my original upgrade offer would be honoured and I would be getting my new phone within 48 hours. Progress at last and only three months late! Maybe not …….Three days later and still no phone. Yet another call to the Customer Relations Manager, who I was now on first name terms with and guess what? …..’The computer says no!‘ I was given all sorts of technical reasons why the system wasn’t accepting the dispatch order. Sorry but do I care about this? All I want is my new phone which I was finally promised and now your systems are stopping you sending it to me? Unbelievable, isn’t it? ‘I’m sorry but we will need our IT department to override the system, as we can’t do it’. How long will this take? ‘We can’t say as it could be at least a day or two or longer’. Both the Customer Relations Manager and Dispatch Manager were mystified by the problem. However, I still didn’t have a new phone, as the system still ‘said no‘. Finally, another week later, I received a call and the computer now said ‘yes’ and the phone was on the way to me and this time, duly arrived!

Attention to detail

So, I finally had my phone and thought this was the end of the saga but oh no! Despite numerous emails and texts, the system wasn’t showing the correct tariff, with the agreed discount, which had triggered the saga in the first place! More calls to the Customer Relations Manager, who finally made the changes to the system whilst on the phone to me. Interesting, as if this could be done, why could not all the other much needed changes be made on the system by ‘humans’ right from the start or is it easier to say ‘no’ and blame the system?

Learning Points

It is not my aim to bore you with my unbelievable ordeal, as this is just the tip of the iceberg but more so to highlight what can and is going wrong in so many large organisations. How can such unbelievable inefficiency be allowed to happen? Why don’t different parts of the organisation speak to each other, look to understand and help resolve each others problems? Do you not have forums to encourage working together, rather than in silos? Why is the computer saying ‘no’ all the time? Is the system driving the people and constraining the business or are the people and the business driving the system so customers get what they want when they want it with the minimum of fuss? Clearly so many questions, which cannot possibly be answered when ‘the computer says no’.

Can you now imagine how great things might have been and could be in the future, if the computer said YES first time round? How great would the customer service and this company be, rather than customer service being ‘optional’?

Meetings bloody meetings?

Meetings bloody meetings! The ‘more mature’ readers of this blog will no doubt remember the infamous John Cleese Video Arts training video by this name! How times have changed since, as were are now in the 21st century digital age but how have meetings changed? Let’s take a closer look.

What typical research shows

A recent article on HR Grapevine highlighted that the average British employee will sit through 6,240 meetings in their career. The huge number consists of catch-ups, client meetings and appraisals. Of the 2,000 workers studied six in ten described meetings as “pointless”.

“There is nothing worse than being sat in a meeting that doesn’t really concern you,’ said Charlotte Gaskin, Marketing Manager at Sennheiser Communications, who conducted the study, “So it’s not surprising then that so many people zone out, nod off or doodle. Of the respondents we polled, many said that often a quick and concise conference call was more effective than a lengthy meeting which often resulted in expensive travel expenses,” Gaskin continued.

There must be a better way!

In my ‘previous life’, as a senior manager in a large corporate, I often got the feeling that that departments and functions were in competition to see who could hold the most meetings. When it came to major projects things got even worse, especially when there was a matrix management structure!

In my ‘present life’ as Managing Director of my own Career & People Development Consultancy, I have come across senior executives and CEO’s who have spent almost every hour of every working week in wall to wall meetings. They complained of how stressed out they were and wondered why nothing seemed to get done or it took eternity!

Whatever level you are working at, you need some thinking time in order to be able to plan, prioritise, reflect, make the right decisions, be sharp, focused and possibly creative, rather than thinking about being on time for your next meeting!

The 7 P’s Principle

In my latter employed days, I made it a rule of thumb that I would only run or attend meetings based on what I now call the 7 P’s principle i.e.

  • There was an agreed Purpose – no purpose, no meeting!
  • There was an outlinePlan / timescale agenda – no plan, no meeting!
  • Only the necessaryPeople would attend who could input / add value – no hangers on or wasted productivity
  • What Preparation, if any, was required – to avoid wasted time in the meeting
  • People selected to attend actively Participated 
  • From the agreed outcomes it was clear who had Points to action, why and by when – no opportunity for people to abdicate responsibility!
  • Agreed deadlines were achieved Promptly– no opportunity for slippage through a good follow up process

 Turning meetings bloody meetings into CLEAR Meetings = effective and productive meetings! 

Linked to my 7 P’s principles, here is a really simplistic formula to run effective meetings:

Clarity – Before any meeting consider:

  • Why do we need to meet?
  • How will this help to achieve our business objectives?
  • What do we need to achieve?
  • Who needs to attend and why?
  • What briefing notes / papers need to be sent out in advance?
  • What preparation is required by attendees?

Leadership – At the start of the meeting the Chair or facilitator:

  • Agree any ground rules e.g. desired outcomes, housekeeping, breaks, finish time, break out sessions
  • Give a quick overview of the agreed agenda
  • Allocate specific roles e.g. time keeper, note taker
  • What is required from attendees

Engage – During the meeting the Chair/ facilitator needs to ensure:

  • There is relevant dialogue
  • Active listening and participation of all attendees
  • The meeting is focused and on track to achieve the objectives

Actions – During the meeting:

  • Agree action points, who is responsible and by when
  • Action points are written up clearly for all to see e.g. flip chart, white board or Post It notes to avoid any misinterpretation
  • At the end of the meeting, action list photographed or transposed onto tablets, lap tops etc for circulation

Review – At the end of the meeting:

  • Have we achieved our desired outcomes?
  • What was successful and what was unhelpful?
  • How we can improve next time?
  • All agreed action points to ensure a common understanding
  • Deadlines for circulation of any notes
  • Deadlines for action points to be completed
  • What happens next e.g. follow up

So, instead of meetings bloody meetings, follow the 7 P’s and the CLEAR meetings approach and you might have less meetings, more productive meetings and start to see meetings in a different light and maybe even look forward to them!