Monday, May 25, 2009

Small Disputes, Big Problems

I have a poster in my kitchen, the Dalai Lama's "Instructions for Life.' I like the Dalai Lama and hope that one day I can meet him or at least see him in person, and I'm glad he was honored by George Bush a few years back.

There are many words of wisdom on this list, but one I'd like to write about today that I think is appropriate to customer service is "Don't let a little dispute injure a great friendship." How many times have we had a customer on the phone who wanted us to make an exception for them because they have been a long and loyal customer. Do you make that exception? Sometimes we are bound by the law, but sometimes we are bound by our own pride, pride in wanting to be right or winning a dispute. Worse yet, long time loyal customers are sometimes treated like new unproven ones. Sure, maybe we haven't been with the company the 20+ years that the customer has been and likely, if you work in a large call center, this is the first time you've ever spoken to that customer. We've lost that "small business, home town feeling" haven't we? But that's a post for another time.

The point that I'm trying to make is that if we have a customer that has been with us a long time and loyal, what's the harm in bending the rules a bit if we can? Or at the very least, be respectful of that person and their needs? Let's take a few examples. I used to work for a nationwide, direct mail, insurance company and we had a rule that if the customer cancels for non-payment twice in a six month period, they would not be reinstated. Internal rule, not one mandated by law. An elderly man called in one day to say that he received a non-payment notice in the mail and wanted to get reinstated. You look at the account and notice it's the second one with in four months. Further, you notice that he has been a customer for over twenty years and his non-payment a few months ago was his first ever! You also notice that over the past two decades, he's had a clean driving record and only minor claims. Who wouldn't want this man as a customer, but the rules say that he should not be reinstated. As a customer service rep and manager, you have to ask yourself a few questions. Is this the kind of customer we want? Is this the kind of customer the rule was written for? Can we cut him some slack for his loyalty? You betcha ya! But of course you need to find out why this has happened twice in the past few months. Maybe his wife has been away in the hospital and he's been away from home, or he had surgery and is just now getting caught up on his bills. There are a lot of considerations to weigh, but too many times I've seen customer service reps fall back on the "that's just our rules" position, unwilling to budge. How do you think this customer feels? How would you feel? Would you do this to an old friend of yours?

On the other hand, what if state law dictates that we can't help the customer? I work for an electric utility company and let's say a customer falls behind on their bills and wants another month to pay. Sure, there are some options, but let's say we've exhausted them and the customer will be disconnected. What can we do then? We can treat the customer with respect and dignity, that's what. "I'm sorry, Mr. Customer, as much as I'd like to help, we are bound by certain rules and regulations. There's nothing I can do to help."

So in summary, loyalty DOES matter! If your company has a long standing relationship with a customer, treat them like an old friend! If you can't help them, be kind!

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