Sleeping Partner Number 6: Gimme, gimme, gimme …
How to use a Customer Service Centre
Phoning about problems – the bane of many people’s lives. Customer Service Centres, Help Desks, Call Centres, Sales Enquiry Advisors, whatever the name, you’ve encountered them at some time. Every business has them – banks, gas & electricity suppliers, shops, mail order companies – whether they realise it or not. Even sole traders have to adopt this role at some point along with all the other hats they have to wear. Regardless of the size or complexity of the organisation you’re calling, and regardless of whether you are calling personally or on behalf of your company, there are ways of improving the quality of service you get from these phone conversations. I’ve been involved for many years in this field, and it’s a plain truth that there are certain people or companies who seem to specialise in complaining about the poor service they have received, rather than taking some basic action to avoid receiving the poor service in the first place. I’ve heard it said “you get the service you deserve” and unfortunately this is all too often true. There has to be an element of pragmatism about this – better customers do get better service, and we’re not talking about the amount of money you spend. Consider these issues as you read this installment. Here are a few recommendations which will help you control the direction and outcome of any such conversation –
Have a good scream at the wall – before phoning.
Shouting does absolutely no good during a conversation. At all. Ever. If you’re speaking to a well-trained call centre employee they will know exactly what to do with your ranting and raving – they’ll ignore it. They’ll passively try to extract any key points they can from your diatribe (like who you are, or exactly which model of dishwasher has failed again) but as far as engaging with you is concerned, forget it. They will have been taught to let you ramble incoherently for as long as you can breathe (hey, it’s usually your money on this call, so who cares?) and then, once things have calmed down, start off as if nothing had happened. And don’t even dream of getting personal with your insults – there’s no quicker way of having a phone put down on you. Supervisors will back their staff to the hilt on this one. You’ve just lost round one.
On the other hand, if you’re speaking to an amateur individual who doesn’t have any call centre training, raising the emotional content of the conversation will probably just frighten them in to agreeing with anything you say – whether they’re empowered to carry it out or not.
I doubt if Baden-Powell was trying to teach his lads to re-arrange the delivery of some new woggles for the next jamboree when he came up with this motto, but I do like his style. I’ll bet he would have had the woggle part number to hand before he started chasing up the delivery. And a contact name and number for the big tent where they were to be delivered. Oh, and some alternative plan if it was raining. Simple, basic stuff like this will get you a long way with customer services. You’re immediately establishing your credentials as a competent individual to deal with. That’s what they want, just like the rest of us – an easy life
Get them on your side as soon as possible.
Try to establish some team rapport really early in the conversation. So, you’ve been double-charged on your credit card statement. Start the conversation by listening for the individual’s name – most organisations will have a greeting like “10 Downing Street, Tony speaking, how may I help you?” Even if it comes over as a garbled rush, get the name. Ask for it if they don’t offer it. Once you’ve got it, use it and give yours. “Good morning Tony, my name is George. George Bush. And I wonder if we can resolve a problem on my most recent credit statement?” Also note the use of ‘we’. You ain’t going to get this fixed without this Tony guy, so the sooner he feels you’re working with him and not against him, the better. Pile it in – lots of first-name stuff, lots of ‘we’, ‘us’. This is exactly what Tony’s been taught in Call Centre School, so he responds to it like one of Pavlov’s dogs by now.
Know what you want.
Don’t just phone up for a moan or a whinge. And don’t just read out a list of deficiencies in whatever you’ve bought. You end up leaving the customer service person with all the uncertainty of gauging what to do. And Tony can’t read your mind. When the tumble-drier has just roasted your finest hand-painted silk kimono to crispbread, be specific about your requirements. “I would like the tumble-drier repaired, at your expense. I would also like compensation for the damaged clothing. I have the receipt from Bali where it was purchased (see ‘Be prepared’ above) and I would like the whole issue resolved within 7 working days from today.” Easy. Tony doesn’t even have to think now. He knows whether he can authorise this, or whether he has to escalate it to his supervisor, Cherie. You’ve made his life so much easier, he now thinks of you as a ‘nice customer’. So chances are you get what you wanted or he passes it on to Cherie, with a recommendation that she approves it. The worst thing a service centre has to deal with is the customer who has no goal to begin with, but then waits to see how much they can get away with. This type of negotiation is doomed from the start. “I won’t tell you what my target is, but if you guess anywhere near it, I’ll raise it anyway.” Faced with this, is it any wonder companies bid low to begin with?
Don’t hang out for the impossible.
You have to be pragmatic about what you want versus what you can get. Sure, the garage could fly in a new cigar lighter for your car from the factory in Japan overnight. But be realistic – is the value of the broken lighter in proportion to what you’re asking for? What would you do if you were in Tony’s shoes? Isn’t his offer, now, of a temporary replacement, worth it for 48 hours until he can get a permanent fix? Even if the brand new hand-stitched Connelly leather temporary one does clash ever so slightly with the distressed plastic interior trim of your current model. So, take these last two recommendations together: have a clear goal; but also be prepared to adjust your target as the conversation develops.
Make them give in – on something.
This is absolutely fundamental to any form of negotiation. It doesn’t matter whether you’re buying, selling, complaining, requesting, whatever. I’ve just suggested being prepared to adjust your demands, but when you do, get something in return. This is purely a psychological thing, not material – don’t necessarily try to benefit from it. If you’ve returned an ‘off’ bottle of wine to the supermarket and they offer you one which is different as a replacement, ask for a free wine carrier. Or two carrier bags. All your doing is establishing in the other person’s mind that negotiation means two people compromising. If you’re the only one who keeps backing down and accepting their offers, then they gain a marginal advantage over you. So, recognise when their offer is sensible and appropriate, accept it, and if it has meant you’ve had to work to their limits, impose one of your own. Invent one if need be. But just get your point across. Oh, and, don’t introduce your idea with “Well, I think the least you can do is … “. This shows you coming from behind, and demonstrates you know you’re behind.
Carrots are always better than sticks, even afterwards.
So you’ve reached your agreement. The dishwasher part will arrive in two days, and the engineer, dressed in the teeshirt with just the shade of yellow you insisted on will turn up to fit it the following day. Or will he? How can you ensure the follow-through is exactly what you’ve discussed with Tony? Simple – say “thank you”. Say it effusively. Say it lovingly. Say it any way you like, but say it. And more than that, ask Tony for his supervisor’s name. Tell him you’ve been so impressed by his level of service and assistance that you would like to mention it to Cherie in an e-mail. If you do this, I guarantee your chances of everything going as planned have just doubled. The last thing Tony wants is praise arriving on the boss’s desk, only for her to find out he’s not done what he promised. ‘Cos we all know what a tough nut Cherie can be, don’t we? And you don’t get where she is by letting the Tonies of this world ruin things for her.