Team Blog by Pavithra Chara - Partner @ IBS
Customer Service is an area that always intrigues me and I enjoy observing the widely varying levels of customer service in my interactions with different product and service companies. There is always debate on whether the extra mile that some companies choose to travel in the name of customer service is really worth the effort - that is, does it translate into customer loyalty, brand preference or free word of mouth recommendations and so on. When the extra “mile” is under so much debate, I dare to explore the concept of the extra “inch” – little things that cost really very little in terms of time and energy but in the customer’s perspective make a difference at some level.
Recently, I had reason to call the Toll-free customer care number of a leading Consumer Products brand. The reason was a mysterious refusal by our washing machine to power up and work that morning. As most women would appreciate, this is exactly the kind of morning one HATES to have and you can therefore imagine my mood as I made the call in for service support.
Having worked in the banking sector myself and having coaxed many customers to migrate to phone banking, I am usually quite comfortable with the typical call centre service. I quickly navigated through the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) portions and finally started speaking to a customer care person. What struck me during that phone call was that just after I explained the problem (or my interpretation of the problem!), the person actually said “Ma’m, I am really sorry for the inconvenience this must have caused you this morning”. I recognized it as a well-drafted sentence and knew it was part of the script. Yet the simple acknowledgment of my hassled morning was not lost on me. No needling to find out if I had a voltage problem, if I had actually plugged in the machine, if I was sure that there was power supply to that phase, etc – just simple acceptance that our customer has a problem before proceeding onto solving it. I actually felt that the company cared enough for its end customer or user; typically a woman who multitasks and uses as many resources (read people, machines, devices) as she can to run her household efficiently; to work this simple statement into their customer care training.
The rest of the call and the service support that followed it are also worthy of mention. The basic troubleshooting questions were covered in the call and allotment to a service engineer was completed. Interestingly, the company has a different way of measuring customer satisfaction with service calls. During the call, I was given a reference code, which I was to give to the service engineer after the problem was solved, and that too only if I was truly satisfied with the way the whole issue was handled. As soon as I hung up, I got an SMS alert with all the details I needed to follow up the request. As promised, the service engineer called me, fixed the visit time and when he arrived was competent enough to assess the problem, suggest a solution and make a follow up trip to finish the job – all within the same day! I handed him the satisfaction code gladly. After all, in this world of unreliable service, this was a fairy tale ending.
The more I think back about this incident, the more convinced I am that the attention to small details such as the simple statement I have alluded to here do have an impact on the customer at many levels. Of course, it would have been useless if the company staff had just been polite and understanding on the phone and then not lived up to the actual service requirement. In this case the overall service framework seemed to be well organized and capacitized and hence the extra “inch” I think went a long way. Which is why instead of cribbing about a faulty washing machine I am writing a glowing report on their customer service?
The lesson in this for every company selling a product linked to a service or just a service is clear. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and try and replicate their mood and emotion when something goes wrong with your product. Only then can you review the customer service process to see if it has the extra “inches” to deal with the customer as a person first and address the actual problem thereafter.
ERGO: Save the slimming for other parts of your business, as for your Customer Service, simple pile on those extra “inches”.