Friday, November 27, 2009

Post-mortem: A collision with 21st century service

Our household was recently disrupted for 48 days due to a dead washing machine.

Initially, it was just a wounded washing machine, but it died during minor surgery. That was just the beginning. You will find the complete blow-by-blow account in yesterday's post. It is a litany of ineptitude, broken promises, and failures to act, reflecting a general absence of concern for the customer.

What do service organizations need to learn?
• Communicate with the customer. Customers can put up with a lot if they know what's happening. If they don't hear from you, they assume nothing is happening.

• Ensure that your call centre and field service depots are communicating effectively. It is inexcusable for a customer to be given one date by the call centre, and another by the dispatcher. Customers are changing plans and making arrangements in order to be available for your technician.

• Communicate with your own field staff. Technicians need the full history of the problem in order to show up with the right parts and an understanding of the situation they are walking into.

• Keep service personnel's product knowledge up to date. For example, service flashes on component changes need to get to the field technicians.

• Create a culture in which employees are expected to take ownership of a problem and manage it to a solution.

• Escalate service orders that have not been closed within a reasonable time frame, and to an executive level when they have not been closed within an unreasonably long time frame.

• Monitor social media for posts that mention your name. Customers are complaining about your service on Twitter, Facebook, personal blogs, etc. This is painful to read but invaluable feedback for you, and can signal that something has really gone wrong. Someone in your company needs to be listening, and responding.
What can customers (including me) learn from this?
• Determine whether the affected product is still under warranty and, if it is, read the terms of your warranty. Jot down model number, serial number, date of purchase in preparation for your first call. Be prepared to describe the exact symptoms.

• Be polite to call centre operators. They are just looking at a computer screen in India or the Philippines, and have no authority to do anything other than place your service order. They can only follow the strict procedures laid down by the company.

• Hang around the area where the technician is working. Don't pester or distract him, but ask him occasionally whether he has found the problem and "How's it coming along."

• Document everything, right from the beginning --- dates, times, names, conversations, promises, no-shows, mistakes, admissions that the tech has caused damage to your unit, and so on. Create a chronological report, and keep it updated.

• Do some research online to identify company contacts who may be able to help when the regular process goes off the rails.

• Write a letter or send an e-mail message. Go as high in the organization as possible, and cc any customer advocate you have already contacted. Attach your chronological report of events to date. An e-mail or letter to the CEO may not get a direct response (although sometimes it will), but the boss may ask someone to look into your problem. By the way, don't wine, threaten, or exaggerate the problem in this correspondence. Be reasonable, factual, and state clearly what you expect from the company if the product can not be repaired in a timely fashion (e.g. replacement if in-warranty, financial assistance with buying a replacement if out-of-warranty).

• If the situation deteriorates --- no solution forthcoming, getting the brushoff from the service outfit, undue delay, excuse-making --- use social media (Twitter, Facebook, personal blog, etc.) to raise a ruckus. Always mention the company's name in updates in order to snag the attention of their online community manager, if they have one. A recent survey found that a negative comment on Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube can lose the company 30 customers. Businesses are gradually waking up to the power shift that social media are producing.

• If the situation appears hopeless, get in touch with customer advocates associated with major newspapers and TV stations. Your chronological report will be valuable here. Even if your story doesn't get picked for tomorrow's news, they have contacts in organizations who may be able to help.

• Companies hate negative publicity in the news media so, when e-mailing customer advocates, copy your messages to e-mail addresses listed on the company's web site. That can get someone's attention, and result in a phone call (Be sure to put your phone number in the message).

• Ensure that the problem is truly solved before the technician leaves and you sign off. Signing off will normally close the service order, so it's back to the beginning if the repair is unsuccessful. For example, if it's a washer, do a test load and offer the tech a coffee while you both watch.

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