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Customer Service - 21 December 2010

One of the best sketches from Little Britain is the one with Carol Beer. She’s the unhelpful and rude receptionist famous for this line: “Computer says no.” Carol represents all that’s wrong with customer service. Her greeting is scripted. Her actions follow a strict protocol. She abandons her own brain in favour of what the computer brings up.

And so it is in the workplace, where many of the actions managers take to improve their employees’ customer service don’t end up improving customer service at all. They just end up producing a team of Carol Beers, indifferent people indoctrinated to adopt protocol over practicality. Here’s what I mean.

I’ve worked in call centres where operators use word-for-word scripts not only for their greetings and closings but also for general interaction. The result is a group of employees sounding like robots. I’ve worked in other environments where employees were provided with a strict time limit on how long they can spend with each customer. The result is a group of employees sounding rushed and impatient.

The more coaching you provide and the more training you give might be having little effect. If that’s the case, it’s probably because your employees don’t need any more development on processes and procedures, and they don’t need any more guidance on scripting and compliance. What they most likely require is permission to break the rules.

The best customer service I’ve received has never been when employees followed the training manual to a tee. It’s been when they’ve broken the rules; when they’ve done something they’ll have to justify to a manager afterwards – something they shouldn’t have done from a company point of view but definitely done from a customer point of view.

Here are five thoughts on doing this well:

  • Give employees a budget: Provide them with a small amount of money, gradually increased over time, to use at their discretion to fulfil customers’ expectations.
  • Don’t punish mistakes: In the pursuit of customer satisfaction, perhaps it’s better to punish inaction and apathy rather than errors people can learn from.
  • Minimise management interference: Investigate the ways in which managers become an interruption to customer service, such as via unnecessary authorisation requirements, and remove these impediments.
  • Trust your employees: Upon giving people permission to break the rules, acknowledge you’ll have some who’ll screw it up and others who’ll thrive. The thriving, though, won’t stand a chance if it’s not accompanied by trust.
  • Encourage personalities: The corporatisation of people occurs when they start sounding the same and acting the same just because they do the same job in the same workplace. Allow employees to inject their own personality into their work.

The alternative is an endless stream of customers using the following three words to describe your organisation to their friends and relatives: “Customer says no."

 

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