It has officially come out that the Comcast Customer Service crisis is really just business as usual for one of the least popular companies in America. What started as a PR storm of public outrage and corporate backtracking over a customer service rep going rogue turns out to be a case of poor quality control coming from management. Comcast’s Customer Service department was fueled by numbers, and by that I mean dollars. What went wrong and how can you avoid your own customer service crisis?
Toxic Company Culture
Large, public companies often skimp on customer service as CEO’s, boards, and investors demand higher profit margins. And to be fair, I recognize the logistical nightmare of handling such a high volume of calls. However, Comcast can only get away with poor customer service when cable companies have the worst reputations and customers are left with few or no options for better cable providers. Maybe this no-consequences culture is why internet service providers have such terrible scores according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Look at this a quote from former Comcast customer account executive Lauren Bruce courtesy of Danielle Muoio of BusinessWeek.com:
The poor work environment made it difficult to help customers, she adds. “I always felt really disempowered to do the right thing. … It was all about the dollar,” Bruce says. “They didn’t care about the hours you had to work or whether or not their policies made sense for you in their job. The system was really outdated and slow, which is always a drag when you’re trying to help someone efficiently.” She adds that “management was poor” because of constant churn among supervisors.
Eventually a blind “culture of efficiency” actually CREATES inefficiency in companies that undervalue employees (and customers) in order to squeeze out a few more short-term sales instead of fostering long-term customer and employee loyalty. A small business would never have been able to get away with poor service for long. The competition would have eliminated the business in no time. But Comcast’s call volume isn’t an excuse. A decision to sacrifice service for profits was made early on.
Build Customer Service into Your Branding
Zappos.com Rob Siefker senior manager for the customer loyalty team demonstrates how making customer service part of your brand from day one is key to building systems that ensure quality service, “The promise that we make to customers is that we’re going to provide a great experience. If we’re going to market that and say that’s what our brand is, then when somebody calls us, that needs to be the experience they have.” Notice how Siefker’s department is Customer Loyalty Team not just Customer Service. Building loyalty is not only part of Zappos’ brand, it is the identity of all the employees who deal directly with customers.
Your potential customers need to know that you:
- Understand what their expectations are.
- Are fully qualified to meet them.
- Have a review process in place to correct any problems that might arise.
- If there is a demonstrated lack of performance by your company, you will return their money or provide corrective service (and possibly some future service) for free.
Advertising your commitment to service tells your customers that you take their business seriously and feel obligated to ensure that they get what they paid for. But this is only half of the story based on the horror stories from former Comcast employees. At some point, managers see only dollars instead of the whole picture.
Build Quality Control into Your Customer Service System
You, as the Buck-Stops-Here business owner, must be vigilant about providing customers with a verifiable quality service. Branding your company as excelling customer service is essential to making that promise real, but you have to deliver on this promise too. You create a culture that makes customer service crucial to every system: sales, hiring, problem solving, etc. So how do you build quality control into your systems?
- Your public mission statement clearly states what you promise to deliver.
- It’s promoted in your advertising.
- It’s reviewed in every interview with potential hires.
- You screen and hire employees/ partners based on their ability to deliver on your promise.
- You have a method in place to allow unsatisfied customers to express their concerns confidentially.
- You rectify these problems quickly, and if necessary replace workers, as needed.
- You survey customers periodically to make sure their experience met their expectations, and to get input and flag additional concerns.
- Survey either by phone, email or mail within 1 week of services being performed.
Without performing quality control on a regular basis, customer service can go way off the tracks, and it isn’t the employee’s fault if it does–with a few exceptions. Establishing systems to ensure the quality of your product and service is so easy for a small business that you have no excuse to fail. Quality customer service should be one of your major priorities. So make ensure your employees hold true to the systems by being a leader. Demonstrate successful service so they can model it. If employees start to fail, it falls on your shoulders to restore and maintain excellence.