Effective customer care – a utopian dream?

A friend had recently tweeted about not receiving replacement for the damaged product delivered by an e-com company even after 5 days. She had reported the issue as soon as she had opened the package and was promised resolution within 3 days. A week down from the day of incidence and she was still waiting.
She had always had good experience with the same company so this incidence was unexpected and troublesome. The company has, over time, built up a very good reputation for delivering to the satisfaction of the customers and thus customer like my friend has started expecting high level of efficiency from them. But problems do crop up once in a while in any service, and she was fine with it as long as it was resolved in the stated time period. The fact that promised replacement did not occur and nor did any further communication come through from Company’s end, caused her to take her ire to social networks.
One can say that not much damage occurred because of one unhappy customer but the company lost the trust of one loyal customer as well a permanent statement of below-par service was posted on internet. Besides this, she as an influencer, created a negative image of Company’s service.
This brings up the often discussed topic of customer care in India. As a consumer and a service provider, I cannot overemphasize the need for a robust customer care department which has direct access to the service team. Most customer care departments seem to have been set up to note down problems in a specific format and parrot a standard response. Customer care executives are neither trained to handle customer’s feelings nor understand the issues which may not exactly fall in a predefined structure. And they are definitely not trained to handle unresolved long-standing issues. Why don’t companies understand that customers don’t want to call them unless they genuinely have a problem?
When customers call with a problem, they want the following:

  1. Problem to be noted down (mandatory)
  2. Someone to ease their agitation (desired but not mandatory)
  3. An expected date by which the problem will be resolved (mandatory)
  4. To be provided the process of resolving the problem (mandatory)

a. if the customer can resolve himself, then the methodology to do so
b. if a serviceman needs to visit the location, then the expected date of visit & other details
c. if the product has to be brought to service centre, then details about it

When the customer’s issue falls within standard list of issues, customer care executives are mostly able to help out. Their politeness and concern for customer ensures a happy after-feeling in majority of cases. But when the issue goes beyond the standard list of issues, customer care executives should quickly pass it on those who can understand and provide proper response. Time is of essence for the customer. Quicker the resolution, better is the impression left with the customer. Unfortunately most customer care departments don’t seem to have a closely connected service department and the customer care so that complicated issues can be passed on to relevant service personnel. Such a system will ensure minimal loss of time in bringing about resolution for the customer.
Another major grouse that I have against the customer care is with respect to problems which have not been resolved despite repeated complaints. If a customer starts the call/mail with the information that they have been trying to get the issue resolved for a long time without success, it is important for the company to understand the urgency. A long-standing unresolved issue leads to erosion of company’s/brand’s image. In such cases the customer case executive attending the call/mail should have the power to escalate the issue to the service department on priority basis while keeping the manager in loop. If possible, they should also provide a direct contact to a manager so that customer feels that company is as concerned as him to bring a swift and successful resolution to the issue. Very few people abuse this direct contact but almost every one appreciates the show of trust.
Customer acquisition is an expensive and often painful process. It does not happen when a product or service is bought, but can be considered successful only when the new customer has received satisfactory service.