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Why do so many companies offer such crappy customer service?

For most companies, it’s really expensive to “acquire” a customer. In the insurance industry, an acquisition cost of hundreds of dollars is not uncommon. (Acquisition cost is generally calculated as the total expense of a marketing campaign divided by the number of new customers that bought your product or service as a result of that campaign.) You’d think that a “hot lead” would be treated like gold, given the effort and expense that it took to acquire, but sadly that’s often not the case. Why do so many companies treat their customers like a cost they’re trying to minimize?

In many cases, it’s difficult to even find a way to contact a company. Not enough companies offer “web chat” on their websites – a brilliant tool that our customers seem to love. And, most companies make it almost impossible to interact with an actual human. Often, trying to find a real person is buried 3 levels deep on their website. If you do eventually find a way to contact them, it seems like the main goal most companies have for their call centers is to minimize their cost – even though they’re often the main touch point their customers have with them.

A popular option is to outsource the call centre to a foreign company that’s had minimal training on the company’s product and services. There are usually strict controls in place to restrict what can be offered to the customer. When talking to a call centre I’m sure we’ve all heard the response “Sorry sir, the system won’t allow me to do that” way too many times! That response always seems like such a cop-out. If your company really wanted to provide good customer service, I’m certain you could find creative ways around system limitations. If the company hasn’t outsourced the call centre, well why not just understaff it then? I think they feel like they’ve struck the right balance when the majority of the time the customer hold time is at least 5 minutes. That should encourage most customers to just abandon their inquiry – thereby saving even more money on customer support costs!

Here at Square One we can’t imagine knowingly choosing to make our customers wait to talk to us. In fact, we’ve got our phone queue set up so that if none of our licensed agents are immediately available to talk to you, your call automatically gets routed to a secondary queue. The secondary queue is staffed by everyone else in the office (and calls are routed based on who is best equipped to help you). For example, Daniel (our CEO) is actually licensed to sell insurance. So, if we get a flood of calls that have overwhelmed the capacity of our agents, there’s a good chance you’ll end up talking to him.  If he’s not available you might get stuck with me. And if I can’t help because I’m not yet licensed, I’ll at least get your name and number. That way, I can get an agent can call you back right away. No sense in you wasting your time waiting on hold!

Seems like common sense, but unfortunately I could give so many examples of this type of thing – big companies seem to be the worst at this. I think the internal bureaucracies at big companies just overcome any rational thought any individual employee might have. Telus springs to mind as an example of this.

Telus spends all this money on their giant marketing campaigns; yet if you try to actually call them to buy whatever their selling, good luck to you. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be on hold for a long, long time. Adding insult to injury, the service they provide to existing customers is even worse! I recently had my credit card compromised, so it was canceled, and my automated monthly payment didn’t go through. Telus is a phone company so you’d think they’d attempt to call me to straighten it out. Nope. They sent a generic form letter, advising me to phone them, provided their main toll-free number, and threatened to cancel the service if I don’t call them soon. I haven’t made that call yet, because you know what? I know I’m going to be on hold forever, and my time (as is yours) is valuable. Why can’t companies respect that?

Unfortunately, smaller companies aren’t immune from this way of thinking either. Often the problem is just that people don’t do the things they say they’re going to do. If you tell me you’re going to have a proposal for me by next Friday, make sure you do! If I have to follow up 3 times over the following 4 weeks, it’s pretty unlikely that I’m going to have any interest in doing business with you by the time you do provide that proposal. Is your company really that wildly successful that you’re comfortable just blowing me off? Just seems really strange… Another recent example worth mentioning is our experience dealing with phone system providers. Since we’re a small operation and like to focus on our core competencies, we didn’t want to host and manage our own call center infrastructure. So, we looked for a voice over internet protocol hosted call center solution. We ended up settling on Broadconnect Telecom because they seemed to offer all the features we needed at a good price. We just wanted a reliable service, with competent support when we needed it. Unfortunately, soon after signing up we found that if we had technical issues that weren’t easily solved, Broadconnect would just choose to ignore our pleas for help. Quality control and reliability of service also didn’t seem to be much of a focus for them. We made it pretty clear that we needed the service to be reliable, or we’d be going elsewhere. They couldn’t even be bothered to engage us in a conversation. After all that effort that went into acquiring us as a customer (ie paying for the online advertising that originally drew us to them, putting together a proposal, getting us all set up on their system, training us etc) they didn’t even attempt to retain us as a customer?!

We’re happy to report that we’ve recently switched to Easy Office Phone. So far, Easy Office Phone’s customer service has been terrific. While we’ve had some technical glitches getting things up and running, the response to the issues is a night and day difference from Broadconnect. Easy Office Phone’s support team is knowledgeable, empathetic and responsive. We actually feel like a valued customer and have confidence in their ability to get things right. Seems like customer service 101, but unfortunately most companies seem to have missed that course.

We’re now happily paying around 30% more with Easy Office Phone than we were with Broadconnect. I’m not suggesting that Easy Office Phone is an outlier – there are many well-known examples of companies that provide great customer service (and seem to be thriving because of it). Companies like Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Four Seasons Hotels, Apple, and Amazon. Based on their success it seems pretty clear that the money and effort they put into their customer service is well worth it – I just don’t get it why all companies haven’t learned this lesson.

Thoughts? Am I being too demanding? How has your experience with Square One compared to the examples listed above? Please don’t hesitate to let me know if we ever don’t live up to your customer service expectations.


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