When Red Tape Gets In the Way…

I’m a big fan of The Consumerist.  If you’ve ever had a bad customer service experience or issue dealing with a business, you could probably relate to a lot of the articles on the site.  Stories range from the depressing to shocking, even downright laughable in some cases.   Recently, I read a story regarding a consumer trying to cancel an account with AT&T.  The story starts out like most Consumerist stories start, meaning it starts with bad customer service.  However, it’s the ending of the story that I had to appreciate.

A man by the name of “Jack” wanted to cancel his DSL service.  Jack had been experiencing various outages of his internet service for a month, so he decided that enough was enough.  Jack had his own modem, meaning he was not in a contract with AT&T.  However, when he called to cancel his account, he was told by the customer service representative that he was, in fact, in a contract and would have to pay an early termination fee.  Jack knew the rules, so he did as most of us would and requested to speak to a supervisor.  The rep told Jack that a supervisor would call him later.

The supervisor never called, so Jack decided to call back.  This time, he spoke with a different customer service representative who, in Jack’s own words, was “…simply, night-and-day from the first CSR.”  Not only did he not have to argue with this rep, he didn’t have to pay an early termination fee, and was even reimbursed for the month of outages, which Jack did not specifically request.  Jack was even quoted as saying “Needless to say, it is CSRs like that that earn my loyalty.”

Granted, Jack was already going to cancel, so I highly doubt Jack might be returning as a customer in the near future.  However, this second customer service rep has most-likely kept the door open for AT&T to regain Jack as a customer in the long run.  This rep also knew that this wasn’t about following blindly following a procedure.  It was about what was best for the customer (and also doing what was right). 

 Humans make mistakes.  Therefore, businesses make mistakes.  Even businesses which are known for stellar customer service have their mix-ups from time-to-time.  I remember an issue I had from ordering something from Amazon.com.  I accidentally ordered the wrong item (a simple mistake, but my own fault, nonetheless), so I called them and spoke to a wonderful rep who had me off the phone in 5 minutes with my issue resolved. 

Instead of being blamed for my own mistake, I didn’t have to pay anything extra, and Amazon picked up the costs to fix my problem.  I also didn’t have to go through some long process of being interrogated, signing an encyclopedia-sized deck of forms, or waiting 4-6 weeks while they processed the exchange.  The process was so simple, that there really wasn’t a “process.”  That interaction built my trust with Amazon, and created an extremely loyal customer. 

 Businesses need to stop looking at the short-term profits, and start looking at what’s going to build their loyalty and brand over the long run.  Leaders need to make sure their employees are empowered to make the right decisions by asking “What is going to satisfy this customer the most so that our competitors can’t steal them away from us?” instead of saying “It doesn’t matter what the customer’s situation is because I have to follow all situations this way 100% of the time.”  Let your employees be free-thinkers, and not mindless drones.  Both your customers and your employees will appreciate you for it.

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