Get Real With Customer Service

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted Monday, July 30, 2012 13:18 PM

By Samuel Greengard

Overseeing customer service is no simple task, even in the best of times. However, in an era of razor thin margins and ruthless competition, it's a make or break proposition. The right information technology and software can make processes a whole lot easier—and better. That’s indisputable.

Unfortunately, somewhere between success and failure lies the very real world of how to provide adequate, if not outstanding, customer service. Apple has it down. It's rare that you wait in a phone queue, support specialists are syrupy pleasant and the company usually solves the problem—or at least provides some type of resolution. It's no accident that Apple consistently ranks at the top of the industry.

Others companies … not so much. This week, I spent several hours trying to get SugarSync to work on an iMac and various mobile devices. After installing the app on the computer, it began sucking memory and crashing.

Uninstall. Reinstall. Fiddle with settings for over an hour. Chat with a technical support specialist, who provides no real solution and informs me that phone support runs $99 a year. Okay. I don't even have the program working and I'm supposed to fork over a Benjamin? Ahh … no. I think I'll take my business elsewhere, thanks.

So, Dropbox lands the $99 a year subscription fee—even though I think SugarSync is a better product overall.

I could tick off dozens of examples of companies (including airlines, retailers, hotels and more) that demonstrate customer service gone wrong. Frequently, an overreliance on technology—chat, kiosks and self-service Web functions—transforms what should be a fairly straightforward task of fixing a problem into a gargantuan and interminable headache.

I'm convinced that well-intentioned C-level executives at many of these firms have no idea what's going on in the real world. I doubt whether they ever spend a day answering support calls—or at least sitting next to a customer rep and listening to them—or actually venturing out to the front lines of the business to experience what their customers experience.

Instead, they view a continuous data feed and they pore over endless reports. They ponder metrics and count beans from their ivory tower. They replace actual thinking with analytics and automation.

My advice: Make technology the enabler rather than the driver. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results.