Thursday, September 28, 2006

Improving Customer Service Processes

People, processes and problems in service

I get a call from a call centre customer executive that there is a problem with my payment against my credit card. This is the beginning of the numerous calls, mails, personal visits which will be carried out by me in the next few days to resolve the problem. Different parts of the bank are handling different things for the same customer that’s me. Poor me I am told to do different things by different people. Poor customer executives of the call centre, they get bombarded by me for nothing they can do. They just are following a process. They cannot solve problems

We are getting letters from the DPs asking us to present ourselves in person with our PAN cards for verification as per SEBI guidelines. Now, my friend is overseas. I ask the bank executive what do we do in his case. He has no clue. His manager, ditto.

The cell companies are worse. Wrong bills, wrong addresses, the small enterprise of ours has faced all these problems. Account manager, account executive, Collection executive, Call centre executives, no no one has resolved the problems. They occur month after month.

Mails come with the standard reply – “This is an automated response. Your complaint id is 420. You will be contacted shortly” How short is the shortly supposed to be. Is anyone tracking the duration fo the shortly.

Calls from the call centres are a gem in customer service, the starting and the end that is. Starting – “Welcome to One-more-cell-company, what can I do for you Sir?”. The ending – “Is there anything else I can do for you Sir? Have a good day Sir.” Everything between the start and the end is a mess.

Problems are remaining problems. I feel things are getting worse as far as service to customers are concerned.

The main reason for all this is a mess up between processes and people. We are failing to differentiate the two. The purposes, advantages, capabilities and limitations of people and processes are confused.

Processes are met to ensure the policies, initiatives are carried out in a manner where there is least amount of problem to the customers.
Yet problems will occur.
People should be meant to solve these problems which come inspite of processes.

If we expect processes to take care of problems too it will not happen. That’s where the trouble starts.

The main reason for all the problems in poor customer service is that there is little harmony in the engine supposed to serve and earn business.

First, the processes are not in place. We are used to announcements on policies first. New initiatives are announced. No process is in place. This is a day to day affair across organisations, public and corporates. It is easy to announce new products, initiatives, policies, but without the processes in place they don’t take off or create a mess. Worst affected by this callous attitude of “policy first, process later” are the executives who are directly facing the customers. They are flooded with all sorts of queries. But they have no clue about these. They are not told what is happening. They do not know how to answer the queries of the customers.

Second, the processes which are created are not dynamic. If there is any change in the assumptions or the environment, and it will be there, the process is not able to take care. Response required to make the changes in the processes are slow. Again the people at the customer end are left to face the tune.

Third, the people who are facing the customers are not quipped to solve problems, provide solutions. They have between trained to speak courteous words and give data. No, they are not problem solvers. You ask them anything beyond data and how you need to resolve your problem and all they can do is record your problem and someone will in their opinion get back.

Problems will occur. Organisations should build the assumption that processes will not suffice. There will special situations, special individual cases which will not be common and not foreseen. However, these will have to be handled and for this we need people who are equipped with good knowledge and holistic view of the processes, good analytical and problem solving skills and empowered to take decisions and make exceptions.

Fourth, let us keep room for face to face interaction. Smiles, eye contacts, discussions go a long way in resolving problems than the emails and phone calls (different people at different times for the same issue).

Processes should ensure problems are minimal. People should be able to solve the minimal problems when they come up.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Let us have a moratorium on new policies, products and initiatives till we know that the existing ones are working fine.
  2. New policies, initiatives, products should be announced only after the process is in place. In fact when announcing the policies, products and initiatives, the process should be announced.
  3. The date of roll out for the customers should be only after all staff at the customer level is fully equipped about the process and procedures related.
  4. We should have a certain percentage of executives/managers at different places who are specialists empowered problem solvers. Like what we have in the police. The normal policemen are meant to ensure law & order. But to handle special situations there are specialists trained personnel.
  5. We should have contact centres at different locations where people can walk into. Even the distance learning universities/institutes/centres have contact centres to ensure there is this personal touch and contact. Where there is service, personal touch cannot be done away with.