08 August 2005

A Customer Service Message

I must apologize to my regular readers for this interlude. This is a message to the Very Large Company with whom I have having a customer service conversation, and specifically to Ms. JB at said company.

Please read Listening to the Voice of the Customer, a talk I gave to the Conference Board of Canada a couple of years ago. It will provide you with some insight into how I regard company's responses to customer complaints.

Let me say that I have the utmost respect for the frontline customer service representatives who have to face irate customers day in and day out. However, those up the line - who receive well-thought-through, detailed letters, that have been printed out, signed in pen, put in an envelope and mailed with a stamp - should not respond as if they are on the frontline. They have the luxury of time, investigation, consideration and thought. A detailed letter is not appropriately answered by a telephone call, or even an email. A detailed letter is appropriately answered by a detailed, well-considered, well-researched, and well-thought-out letter that addresses all the concerns raised by the customer. On paper. With a stamp. Mailed.

This is called the principle of commensurate media. A customer expects to be answered in a fashion commensurate with the mode of the original contact or transaction. If I email someone, I generally expect an email in response, in roughly email time (i.e. within a day or so). Traditional post comes with a couple of weeks of time. A telephone call or instant message is immediate. Since the quality of the response is proportional to the time available, it is just plain rude to respond to a customer complaint using a faster medium than the medium of complaint. (Conversely, it is generally inappropriate to service a transactional request for service using a slower medium than that of the request, unless that expectation is set in advance.)

One more thing: Telling my wife that you are going to "close the file on this [written] complaint" until I telephone is rude, rude, rude. Here's a clue: Respond thoughtfully in writing. Then offer your telephone number and invite me to call to discuss. It puts me in a much better frame of mind. This has just pissed me off even more.

Fair warning: The next time I have to post on this subject, I name names.

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Anonymous said...

Now how are they supposed to respond to this with commensurate media???? Are you expecting them to post in a blog too? Interesting question...

Mark Federman said...

Well, now that you raise the issue, David, I do expect every corporation to eventually outer their internal voices and speak directly to their customers via blog, unfiltered by the public relations and marketing departments. We are seeing this happen among an increasing number of companies (think of Microsoft's Robert Scoble, or Sun Microsystems's Jonathan Schwartz). In this case, in an ideal customer service world, I would expect a written response to my written concerns, plus a commentary on the company's (yet to be initiated) weblog reflecting on customer service issues in general.

Emergent transparency is one of the dominant effects of pervasive proximity. We are seeing it in politics; we should be seeing it in corporate governance and management as well.

Anonymous said...

Hello. I find your blog very interesting. Good Customer Service is a rare thing at the present time. Although companies offering the same services are numerous and have somehow to drift on the market they still do not care about their clients. And the worst thing is that the customer services of these companies do not care about the filed complaints. They simply ignore them. What a mess!