Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Tale of Two Transactions, Part I

Sorry it's been a while since my last update...been busy with a slew of projects, both paid and unpaid and even one hope-to-be-paid-for project. It's been a busy month!

I will be the first to admit that I'm not great with bills. While I was working full time I'd get paid, pay the bills I had in hand, spend the rest, and wait for my next paycheck. That worked well enough but when I left the security of my full-time job to pursue my dream of working as a writer full-time, that method didn't adapt well. As a full-time employee I received a regular paycheck. As a writer, I don't, so I fell behind on a few bills and, as a result, had to call the dreaded toll-free number to work something out. It's when a customer struggles paying bills that a company can rise to the occasion or fall flat. I have an example of each.

First, my gas bill. I was on a budget billing plan, paying $100/month and fell behind three months. Oops. So I called to see what I could do and I was told that by paying 2/3 of the bill, I could stay on the budget plan. So I went to the nearby pay station, did I was told, and called back to confirm the payment. I also confirmed that I would not be taken off the payment plan at which time I was told that the previous rep had made a mistake and that I would be taken off the budget plan! She assured me that she would tell that rep's supervisor so that rep wouldn't repeat the same mistake. Well, I don't know how it is where you are at, but here when they take you off the budget plan they make you pay your total balance, which in my case included most of my winter usage - a total of $600! If I had known that $300 would have saved me from going off the plan, I would have paid $300, but the second rep didn't care and told me - get this - that people make mistakes and that I should understand that. Well, needless to say that pissed me off. Yes, people do mistakes, I understand that. But most people usually take responsibility for their mistakes, especially corporations. Second, how confident do I feel with information I get from this company in the future? Not very!

When you are working in customer service it's important that everyone talking to customers KNOW THEIR JOB - and thoroughly! Training, training, training and testing, monitoring and coaching are key to a successful customer service operation - whether it be in retail sales or a call center setting. Is it the customer's fault the rep didn't know the job? NO! It's the company's fault. Period.

If you're a customer service manager, make sure you have a good trainer, one familiar with with the ADDIE process (ask your candidate about this, if they don't know this acronym, don't hire them) and make sure you have a quality assurance team that monitors calls, is able to identify problem reps, and adequately coach.

If you're a customer service professional, make sure you know your job. If you aren't sure of something, ask! If you make a mistake, take accountability for it. Talk to your supervisor to see if an exception can be made. If your work culture is a good one, you will not have to hide your mistakes. Listen to those around you and be accepting of feedback and criticism.

Unfortunately when a customer falls behind on their bills there is a belief among customer service professionals that the customer is lying or trying to pull a fast one. I even worked for a company whose reps called them "deadbeats." People don't like being treated like that and for the most part, they want to pay their bills but just can't for whatever reason. The first step on the eightfold path is right understanding - understand your customer and his or her situation. Empathize if necessary and even if you can't help them, at least treat them with respect and sympathy.

You never know when it's karmic payback time and you are the one on the other end of the phone having trouble paying bills.

Next time I'll share the story of a company that did it right.