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Do you delight or alienate your customers?

Are you doing the best to please your customers? David Tebbut shares some thoughts on the subject

Which side of the border between delight and alienation does your customer support fall? I can immediately think of three examples of alienation, but only two of delight.

Let’s deal with the “delight” ones first: a company promised to deliver something by a certain date. On the day, it kept me informed of the progress right up to giving me a live map of the delivery vehicle’s progress once it got near. Given that this was a provider (Yodel) who’d previously been in my bad books, I was beyond delighted. The other example was the internet hosting company (Merula) that set me up with a new web presence and email with superb efficiency.

Then, on the downside, was an internet hosting provider that I’d happily been with through many incarnations since the mid-1990s. A few years ago, I even switched my phone and broadband provision to the same company since it offered better value than its parent company, BT.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to take advantage of a new, unstated, offer. I called the number provided only to learn that it was dropping all of its business accounts – the “offer” turned out to be to move me back to BT. The call centre claimed to know nothing about the fate of my hosted website and email. Because of my long and happy relationship, I assumed all would be taken care of and agreed to the transfer to BT. When I got the letter of regret that I was moving, I was somewhat shocked to learn that I was to be fined for terminating my contract early and that my website and email service would die.

Much scrabbling around ensued while I set myself up with a new provider, taking time to write to the business manager of the erstwhile provider suggesting that he re-script the call centre staff and abandon the issuance of fines when his own company had essentially bullied me into the switch. A phone call and an email from said supplier thanked me, agreed with my suggestions and promised immediate action. If you hadn’t guessed, this company was Plusnet – the swift action was exactly what I’d come to expect. Alienation turned to delight (well, almost).

Then we come to the next story, which concerns delivery of the BT hub through the Royal Mail Tracked delivery service. It promised delivery yesterday, and when it was in transit, I was asked if I wanted to complete an “If I’m out” form. I did this and they confirmed receipt of my “If I’m out” instruction.

What wasn’t said was that, internally, they appeared to treat this as an instruction to skip my delivery and do the alternative anyway, but 24 hours later. It looks as if they’ve created their own version: if “in” then “deliver” else “do the alternative”, which suits them but not the customer. I am currently piggy-backing off my mobile phone’s data – now I’m hub-less.

Dealing with people

The third, and this will be familiar to many, is the way that parts of the NHS seem to wield the internet and telephone as a protective shield against having to deal with people with genuine illnesses.

Just one example was the promise to my wife in mid-September that she’d need to see a specialist urgently. Although, at the time, “This will be set up within two weeks” didn’t sound remotely urgent to me. Here we are, almost three months later, and still nothing. Are we being conditioned to think that this is normal and acceptable practice?

It seems to me that everyone who carries responsibility for customer service has to ask themselves a fundamental question: “Am I genuinely interested in customer satisfaction or am I implementing systems and procedures to shield myself from my customers?”

That’s what defines the border between customer delight and alienation. Where do you stand?

David Tebbutt is a business writer and editor. He specialises in researching and writing about technology-related topics, primarily for business readers.

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