Process comes before a smile in customer service

7758507_mWhen we are at the receiving end of poor customer service, it unfailingly ticks us off.

Being champions of process only makes it a little more painful because even while we go through a first-hand experience of poor customer service –- be it over the phone or a counter –-  we are also immediately able to see beneath the surface and understand why things are likely going wrong.

Now, on a theoretical plane, you might think that this ability to see beneath the surface to see why you are having a bad moment of truth, can also give you the ability to empathise and tolerate poor customer service.

Not the way it works

But that does not necessarily happen. For us process folks, particularly, it seems more often than not to make it worse because we are thinking “how can you not know…” and “how can there not be…..” and “how could you not have…” And before you know it, you find a huge reason to believe that the organization has really not thought through customer service well enough. You clearly see all the wrong ways in which they see their ‘customers’ and how alarmingly short-sighted the service activities are that they’ve built around the customer, aka YOU.

Suddenly all the little bits of insight you are spotting add up to give you a very good reason to believe maybe you aren’t really King, nor even meant to be anything close, but only an insignificant element that adds to the profits of an indifferent organization.

The casualties are loss of a customer, loss of respect for a brand that, to be fair, took a lot of effort to build, and worse, if you blog about it (naming names), huge embarrassment.

But on the other hand, think about a really positive customer experience –- and you suddenly seem to have enough reason to admire and respect an organization and its processes –- and you are willing to repay that experience with something far more valuable…your loyalty.

Although we may all have quite a few personal examples to cite otherwise (both good and bad), the funny thing is that regardless of whether you have a good experience or a bad one, it is not actually always about the the person on the other end of the line or on the other side of the counter – although most of our frustration maybe directed at that individual. In the final analysis, one thing is constant.

It. Is. Always. The. Process.

Ian Gotts wrote a very insightful piece here titled “Silicon-based versus carbon-based customer service” citing an excellent example of how a well thought-out customer service process can be executed well even if it wasn’t a human interacting with you. The imaginary conversation he has with ‘JPEG and Silicon’ based Nano Norm is good enough for you to see the power of a thoroughly thought-through customer service process.

And then, you can’t help but wonder what you can’t achieve with something that ought to be better than even the Nano Norm: Carbon-based customer service.

And then you wonder why, and what in the living world, is it that makes it so elusive……


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Categories: Continuous Improvement, Customer Service, Information Technology

Author:Jaisundar Venkat

Jaisundar Venkat is a process professional specialized in Business Process Management. Jaisundar leads BPM Consulting at a large technology firm and is on a mission to help companies achieve the fundamental promise of BPM. His areas of interest include BPM, CRM, SFA, Sales Performance Optimization, Corporate Performance Management and general IT industry developments & trends. He writes on these topics at his own blog, and also writes for a few popular sites specializing on Business Technology trends, specifically the crucial intersection between Business and IT.

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13 Comments on “Process comes before a smile in customer service”

  1. Paul M. Konnersman
    January 4, 2013 at 3:22 am #

    I agree that when it comes to customer service, process is more important than a smile. But that doesn’t mean that silicon-based processes are necessarily better than carbon-based processes. The better process is the one that reflects more intelligence, and that can be either silicon- or carbon-based. The amount of intelligence embedded in the customer service process is a direct reflection of the general competence of top management.

    I offer an outstanding example from just last week. I ordered a refill of prescription drugs from my Medicare Part-D plan supplier. I changed my shipping address for this order and the correct address was reflected on the order printed by the supplier on their web site.

    Customer service problem 1: The shipping address on the package was that of my previous order, a thousand miles away. How can this happen with even the most basically adequate process? It can’t.

    Customer service problem 2: They didn’t discover the problem, I did. I had to initiate action, track the package, call their ludicrously named “customer service” department and spend time and energy trying (unsuccessfully) to get them to take responsibility for the problem.

    Customer service problem 3: The “customer service ADVOCATE” (can you believe the chutzpah!) informed me that there was nothing they could do. He told me that I would have to get in touch with the Post Office (that icon of customer service) and get them to forward my prescription. He rejected my suggestion that they ship a replacement overnight since my medications had already run out. I asked to speak with his supervisor and was able to do so after an unreasonably long delay. The supervisor assured me that the customer service ADVOCATE had gotten it right and that there was nothing they could do for me.

    Customer service problem 4: Not being the sort of person who accepts “no” for an answer, I went online to find a higher authority. Good luck. I had no problem finding the names and office addresses of the company’s top executives. But, in spite of considerable online searching skills, I was unable to find any phone numbers or email addresses for those executives. They were well insulated from those annoying customer service problems. I did find email and phone numbers for the executives in a sister-company owned by the same healthcare financial conglomerate. I called the sister company CEO and received a recorded message saying that he was out of the office until January 2nd, but if it was an emergency to call another number. Calling that number reached another answering machine saying that the incumbent was out of the office until January 2nd. I sent my email complaint to the sister company executive with a request that they forward it to the prescription company CEO.

    Customer service problem 5: On January 2nd and 3rd I received two calls from two different persons apologizing on behalf of the prescription company CEO and assuring me that my prescription order was being sent overnight at no charge to me. It is January 4th and I have yet to receive it.

    This company makes all of the right noises about the importance of their customers and customer service including giving powerless clerks the title of ADVOCATE, but their processes speak loader than all their words.

  2. January 4, 2013 at 5:53 am #

    Wow. What a ride! Thanks for sharing that example! What is seriously missing here, is view of the process from the customer’s perspective – It is not tied into the customer outcomes they want customer service to achieve.

    And you’re right about senior executives and what they think about customer service. On the occasions I have had a bad experience like you have had, I often wonder what stops a senior executive from just picking up the phone and making a call or placing an order and going through the cycle just to have a first hand experience of how their executives and processes deal with customers. As you say, the processes will speak louder than all the words and graphs a report on their desk can tell them.

  3. January 4, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    It all goes back to the process enforcement, btw which again is a process, (silicon/carbon) being in place…if it was…then all those CS 5 problems would not exist and they would have seen a smiling Customer….

  4. January 4, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    How true…. in the end it is about making the smile appear on the customers face after all! And that means a lot, much more than achieving just ONE happy customer 🙂

  5. January 4, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    Jaisundar, I think that our work in process gives us a false sense of security. Because we understand process so deeply, work in it every day, and we know that it is always the process that fails, we assume everyone else does.

    I call this the “jury duty” effect. Here is the States, we are periodically summoned to fulfill our civic obligation and potentially serve on a jury. I won’t even touch on how poorly this process is run; that is a post for another day. But, because I work with so many bright, articulate, and well-intentioned people each day, I assume that is how the rest of the World works, as well.

    However, it only takes a few questions from the Court to some of potential jurors on the panel for me to realize that it isn’t the how the rest of the World operates. I have to really change my perspective and expectations.

    That may be OK for jury duty, but that isn’t OK when I’m a customer, line manager, or CEO. We expect performance and performance only happens through individuals (or machines) carrying out a series of steps… A process.

    What we tend to look past most of the time we have poor customer experiences is whether the process (series of steps) failed or whether the actor (person or system) failed. We don’t care, and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter, because the process failed. That is all that matters.

    Process governance and monitoring is key, but we can’t lose sight of the fact the actors (humans) have to be equipped and capable of executing the process. Most are well-intentioned, but sometimes (for various reasons) they aren’t up to the standard of the process they are working in. During the Holidays, here in the States, that is usually due to over-extension. Employees that are normally stellar will lose their edge during the high-capacity Holiday season.

    But, again, at the end of the day, does that matter? The process (including actors) should be geared to handle the high-capacity times of the year. Those are the critical customer win/lose moments.

    • January 4, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

      Very true. Loved this comment. Thanks, Ron.

  6. January 4, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    I recently had the customer experience from hell, courtesy of Verizon. They send me mail solicitations about every week or two with offers to sign up for FiOs. So one time I called the number, and said, “this is probably not real, because you don’t offer FiOs in my neighborhood do you?” They said, “we do.” So, I said, “great. Sign me up.” They sent out 3 rounds of people: an engineer to survey the house on one day. A guy who checked the lines to the street another day. A crew that came and blocked the street with a police detail and installed equipment in our home. But there was a problem connecting. They said they’d come back the next day. A week later I called to find out what was up. They said that “oops, we don’t offer FiOs in your neighborhood.” That was bad enough. Then on Christmas Eve we found they had cut off our phone and Internet service. It took us a day to get it back. Then they cut it off again on December 29. Another day to get it reinstalled. Throughout, I could see the process breakdowns between marketing, the field, and billing. As a process guy, I could understand why they were having problems, but it only heightened my frustration.

  7. January 4, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    Lucky they were in business and not practicing Platform Diving. Half way through the dive they’d have discovered there was no water in the pool. :p

  8. Achal Sharma
    January 9, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    I think its not about process designing….its an issue of Process Governance, which has to have a automated RACI escalation to higher authorities. In this era of fast technological advancement, the major issue is Process Governance. Even for once if the process is weak (which should not be the case), and the governance is strong….it can still bring smile to the customer.

    • January 9, 2013 at 11:02 am #

      You are right, Achal. Process Governance is important – and a whole topic by itself – see this discussion we had here around Process Governance, but I am interested in hearing your view further on this – isn’t Process Governance something that kicks-in when you have a Process clearly defined? Doesn’t it come back to designing process right to start with? What do you think?

      • Achal Sharma
        January 10, 2013 at 9:04 am #

        I agree….that is why I have marked in bracket, that Process Design should not be weak. We must not work for future to design good processes….rather, we should work in future to do so.

  9. Ashish
    January 11, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    I really liked the overall discussion .. In my views continuous process improvement is very important.. Which can comes with the right set of measurement matrix, robust process governance.. Any sound process design will have some inefficiencies, or scope for further improvement. Customer expectations keeps on increasing and so are latest technologies.. So with right process improvement strategies and governance mechanism, any process design can be kept abreast with customer expectations..


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