Customer service approaches that frustrate rather than satisfy

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Why is it that financial services organisations are so difficult to deal with by phone?

Indeed the only sector that is more frustrating in its response to a telephone query is telecommunications, which is an even bigger mystery – but I digress.

Each time I need to telephone a bank or large fund manager I feel antsy even before I key in the number.  That’s because I know it’s going to be a hugely frustrating experience, which is not a good way to start resolving a query or problem.

After speaking to many people about this and hearing them add their own frustrations to the discussion, I know the problem is not me.  It’s the financial services organisations, who are not taking enough interest in how their customer service systems work for customers.

Here are just some of the petty annoyances:

“Your call is important to us”

It clearly isn’t, so why say it?  If the call was considered important the organisation would have a proper person responding, not a machine. This message just wastes time and ratchets up to the frustration level before a conversation has even started.

“Listen carefully as we have changed the menu”

It seems every time I dial a customer service number, the message starts by asking me to listen carefully as the menu has been changed.  I simply don’t believe that almost every organisation change their menu just before I phone.  It seems more likely no-one is paying attention to their own system and updating messages.  Again, it just gets the frustration levels rising before the call has even been answered.

“How’s your day been?”

When you do get on to a real person, more often than not you can tell they are going through the steps of their script without much interest or attention. All I want to do is get the problem fixed so I can get on with my day, not make small talk.

I’m a person not a pigeon

Being forced into a pigeon-hole that really doesn’t fit the query being made is really annoying.  Organisations have obviously tried to boil everything down to a simple formula that makes life easier for them, without any consideration for customers or clients that have a problem outside the choices offered.

I recently read about some management consultants proudly claiming they had helped a client reduce the number of their standard response letters from 50 to 5 – as if that was a good thing.  How can they think reducing the number of pigeon-holes that problems must fit into is sensible?  As to having standard response letters  – why not scrap them all and train staff to write an individual letter that responds to the particular circumstances.  Or, better yet, try harder to make sure customers don’t have a problem with you so you don’t need letters at all!

Empowering the call centre

The person you’re talking to will rarely admit it but the fact is they are not empowered to do anything but stick to the script.  So this often adds to the frustration and the feeling you’re banging your head against a brick wall, before you get passed on to someone else.

Being flick-passed

When the person you’ve finally got onto isn’t able to help they give you the choice of holding on for another 20 minutes while they transfer you, or else give another number for you to call. Why should you?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get a response on the lines of “Let me make sure I understand – the problem is …  Is that right?  I’m sorry I can’t help you myself but someone who can do so will call you back within an hour.”  One can but dream.

Instead you end up telling the same story to two or three different people without getting an apology for any inconvenience.

“I’m sorry, so sorry”

Wouldn’t it be nice to get onto someone straight away who recognises, after you’ve laid out your problems, that the organisation has messed you around and responds with an apology?  Don’t they realise how a simple “Sorry” can make annoyance and frustration vanish and make a terrific start to coming to a satisfying conclusion?

Like most public relations, it’s pretty must common sense, but astounding how organisations can get it so very wrong!

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