Tuesday, April 1, 2008

PR Lesson for us: Listen to mama especially when it comes to customer service

Mom was right all along. You make mistakes. That’s OK, everybody does. What really matters is how you deal with the repercussions and how you react.

Someone ran into my new car parked outside my home this weekend and didn’t leave a note. That was upsetting. But this isn’t about my reaction – it’s about a corporation’s response to a problem.

Problem number 1: It takes two weeks to get the insurance company’s check cut to the police department for the police report of the accident, and eight weeks total to have your claim updated, which affects my out-of-pocket expenses. And I didn’t want to take time out of my workday to go to the police department. But I did. (They were very nice by the way and run a tight ship in the records department.) With this particular lengthy procedure, the company was saying to me it didn’t care about me, because their response time is extremely slow. Don’t they know I’m out there trying to make a difference in this world just like everybody else and I need my car!?

So I make a call to complain about the company procedure of getting police reports. Yes, I’m a ferocious. Here comes problem number 2. I get transferred back to the claims department where someone tries to provide an alternative, when I’m already 10 minutes from half way remedying the situation myself. The next rep tries to interject to clear something up on the company’s side. Then at the end he says in a defensive tone he will address some of the points I brought up. No. All I wanted to do was make an official complaint about their procedure. It was poor customer service and I wanted them to know.

Risk communication expert Peter Sandman’s paid very well to help corporations, such as Exxon with the Valdese oil spill in the 1980s, get out of sticky situations with the public.

He says that the public’s perception of a wrong can create as much damage as the wrong itself. He gives the following advice to companies in error:

- Be responsive.
- Own up to what happened. Tell the truth.
- Have apologetic humility and acknowledge the prior misbehavior.

Basically, don’t be a jerk when someone in the public brings up a wrong they feel caused them harm.

Let’s say someone calls your company to make a complaint and you are the poor soul who answers the phone. You don’t have to say anything but maybe the following sentences. (There are other ways out there -- but here's one way to handle it.)

-“Yes, sir. Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying.” Then repeat in a slow, calm voice what the person told you. It doesn’t matter what you think at this point.

-Then say “I have your information and I will turn this in to the ___________ department.”

-“I am sorry this happened. Thank you so much for calling us and letting us know about it, so something like this doesn’t happen in the future.”

No matter what, do not interject or try to address issues at the end. The caller does not care what you think or even if they got something wrong. They just want someone to write down what they say so they can be heard.

The person might get so angry they give up and hang up on you. I did today. Those darn turkeys.

What’s the worst thing you’ve heard a customer service rep say? Or, if you find yourself in the reps shoes, what helps you in these tense situations? We all could use a little help.


Anonymous said...

Good idea for a blog. . .basically I think it comes back to the idea that there are so few companies in competition with each other for our customer dollars that they can basically do and say what they want. . .for example, when you think of car insurance only a few companies come to mind - Geico, Progressive, Nationwide, State Farm. . .this means that no matter how crazy their policies are they know that there are only a few places you will go for a low cost - enough said. . .what would it take for customers to leave the companies in mass quantities. . .look at Walmart they have CRAZY stuff going on and yet people still go there (including me) =(


City Sights and Observations said...

And those lower cost insurance companies know our hands are tied by cost and laws. Wonder if there is a consumer union out there? :)

Sidenote on poor customer service: I was at a free movie showing last week and one of the non-theater employees was receiving negative feedback from a customer and she said, "You know what? I don't need you to tell me how to do my job!" I've heard friends say similar things when venting. But I've never heard anyone actually say it. hahahaha

Christina said...

Did you raise your voice Wendy? I wish I could have heard the phone call to their customer service!


City Sights and Observations said...

(Whistling.) I hope they didn't record it.