Saturday, 28 May 2011

Customer Service "or" What?

There's a knock-off saying from the more familiar one: "The customer is always right - and usually ugly, too!"  I tend to think that the kind of ugly to which this refers, does not always mean that of the physical kind.  You know, the sort that doesn't fit with our societal construct and perception of beauty?  No siree! I have come to believe that the ugly implied in that tongue-in-cheek remark, does sometimes refer to the customer's conduct, behaviour, if you will - especially when the candour of his/her retort is unexpected.

Let's take the scene a few months ago.  I approach the customer service desk, the relevant card in hand, ready to make a payment to my account.  (After all, the flyer that the company mailed to me earlier that week did say that I could come in with either card or statement. As I was already on the road, I figured I could just drop in and be done with it.)  I produce my card.  She looks at me. She  proceeds to explain that I need the statement.  I point out the operative "or" ('cause that's what I do). She repeats herself.  I proceed to explain that it would take me about 40 minutes of highway driving to get home and get back with the statement.  Plus, I continue, their flyer did say "or".  Her explanation is stuck on repeat.  I ask to speak with the manager.  He approaches their side of the counter.  I explain why I expect my payment to be accepted, even though I do not have the statement.  He pretty much gives the same explanation - they are the store; the card company is independent of them. They need to see the number on the statement, which is not necessarily the same on the card.  I tell him the number on the statement - only the last two digits are different.  He still needs to see it.  I now take the time to point out the "or" on his flyer.  He says something about seeing to a change in the copy because it is in fact misleading.  I leave to go home to get the statement.

While there, I call the card company.  As I had imagined they would have, they explain that the card alone is fine. They are able to update the account whether payment is made to the card number or the statement number.  I sigh.

I head back to the store. I explain what the card company said. The manager apologizes for my inconvenience and assures that he would check in with corporate re the the copy and recommend a revision.

Fast forward to last week. I have both statement and card to close the store's account. The sad part now?  I do not have page 2.  I have page 1 with the account number that they'd asked for the last time, but I do not have page 2 with the transaction numbers (single digits, mind you).  The guy at the counter says he needs the trans numbers. I tell him I know both of them by heart.  He still needs to see page 2.  He checks in with his supervisor - Ms. CSR from a few months ago. I tell her I know which is which.  She insists that I need page 2 for them to allocate the funds to the correct trans numbers.  I remind her that the last time I was there, I had to drive all the way back. She apologizes.  THEN she suggests that I could call the card company using the phone at the other end of the counter! The counter!  Right there! They would be able to confirm the trans numbers and then she would be able to apply the funds accordingly.  And I'm thinking, why did you not suggest that in the first place?  Couldn't that have been done the last time and save me gas and time and effort?

When it was all over, I asked the guy to beckon to her as I really needed to talk to her.  As she made her way over to the counter, I could feel myself taking deep breaths as I tried to maintain my cool.  As I relayed to her my disbelief that there had in fact been an option all along - a simple call to the card company, from their store!!! - I questioned why customers aren't given that option in the first place!  Why would they insist, as if it were cast in concrete, that customers who turn up without their statements leave and return later that day (if they have the time) or another day?  And, yet, the stupid "or" is still sitting there, ensconced between "statement" and "card".  (I didn't say stupid.  I just pointed out the fact that their flyer (yes, they'd sent another) still had the "or"!)  Her explanation was that they don't want to encourage that option, as customers would be taking a risk if they're not sure of their trans numbers and can apply funds to wrong trans numbers etc.  And I'm thinking, and finally said, that the customers should be the ones to decide to take that risk.  Give them the option! Moreover, with the quick phone call, once the customer ascertains the trans number, he/she gives it to the store's CSR. The CSR simply writes it on the receipt after payment and the customer initials it - taking responsibility wrt where the funds are going.  That's what they had me do.  I really wanted to reach out and touch her around the neck! Cho!

She went on about understanding my frustration and again apologized for the inconvenience but wanted to assure me that they are in fact addressing the matter of the misleading copy on the flyer (no doubt from my previous point out - maybe others had done their own pointing out, too.  Who knows?) Again with the understanding, but it's in the interest of the customer blah blah blah.  In the end, I didn't even say thanks for her promise to follow up.  I just sighed - exasperatedly - and left.

So, I guess I was both right and perceived to be ugly that day.  I didn't raise my voice. But, I did feel bad after about not saying thanks, and for leaving so abruptly.  As I replayed it, I imagined that I can be right without being rude. That was my little lesson from that episode.  At the same time, however, I did feel a slight satisfaction that I communicated my frustration and the reason for it.  It can't be right that they turn people away (as they had done with me the first time) when there is a phone-call option just at the end of the counter!

Like I tweeted the other day, there really is a difference between customer service to die for and customer service that just kills you!


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