Call Center

Weak Links in Customer Service

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about customer service surveys, their value, and how they are abused. Why? It seems that I’ve been using them a lot. However, before I share my most recent saga, let me go back a few years and share that story first.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Protect the Identity of the Survey Respondents: My first encounter with a customer service survey gone bad was with a call center equipment vendor (I think they’re now out of business – might there be a connection?). I was calling them often, attempting to resolve several ongoing problems. Each call seemed to generate a follow-up customer service survey via fax. I dutifully filled it out, thinking that I was doing my part to help them enhance their processes and improve quality. I endeavored to be fair in my evaluations, giving high marks when they had been earned and not so high ratings when warranted. Even so, I never gave them a below average grade.

Imagine my surprise when I met their staff at a convention a few months later. Over the course of the three-day event, I was confronted by no less than five employees from the company, including the CEO. They were all aware of the marks I had been giving them – and they were mad. It seems that I was lowering the curve, and each one claimed to be negatively affected by my “low” responses. I thought I was helping, but they didn’t share my perspective. What I was doing was making them angry, and this was certainly not enhancing my chances of receiving the help I needed. After their repeated chastisements, I never filled out another one of their customer surveys – nor anyone else’s for a long time.

Make Sure the Survey Is Evenly Distributed: Next is my Web hosting company. I don’t need to call them often – and when I do, they are most responsive and helpful, usually resolving my issue quickly and on the first call. Sometimes at the call’s completion, they ask if they can email me a customer survey. Over the years, I’ve called enough to realize that they generally make this offer when the call went exceptionally well, but not when it was difficult or lengthy. By cherry-picking whom to survey, they are skewing the results and garnering only favorable feedback. Consequently, any conclusions are meaningless.

That brings us to the present. The next series of surveys were set in motion by my decision to change cell phone providers. My carrier had been acquired and there were ongoing quality issues with the new carrier; it was time to switch. First, I needed to do a usage analysis to ensure that the new plans being considered would indeed cost what was anticipated. Unfortunately, I couldn’t log into my account to download the call detail report; it was my first attempt since my account had been migrated and something was awry. By the time I found a number that someone would answer and worked my way to the right department, I was less than pleased. But after thirty minutes of effort, I had successfully logged in and downloaded the needed data. When I was given the opportunity to complete a post-call survey, I jumped at the chance so that I could express my displeasure. On the question “Would you recommend us?” I gave them a two on a ten-point scale.

Prohibit Survey Coaching: That night, with my analysis complete, my clan headed off to procure our new phones. As we left the store with product in hand, our very accommodating salesman mentioned that I would receive an automated customer service survey. He asked that I respond with a five on every question – doing so would verify that I was pleased with his service.

Interestingly, when selecting cell phones three years prior, I have been given the same spiel by a different rep, at a different store, with a different carrier.  Is this a common industry practice?

Follow Up When Appropriate: The next day, before my old number was ported over to my new phone, I received a call from my old carrier on my old phone. Not recognizing the number, I didn’t answer it, and they left a voicemail message. The call was in response to my disinclination to recommend them, as noted on my survey.

Call Back in the Manner Requested: In the rep’s message, she asked that I call back with the best time and best number for them to reach me. I did, leaving my office number and asking for a return call on Monday. Instead, they called my cell number on Sunday, causing me further irritation by disregarding the information that they requested and I provided. The agent made no attempt to win me back or leave the door open for my return, but he did condescendingly remark that had I gotten new phones from them, my quality issues would have been resolved.

Leave Understandable Messages: A week later I received a welcome call from my new carrier. It was not automated, but in person. Curiously, she did not call my cell phone, but my office number. I was out, and she left a message. The fast-talking agent spewed forth her message, callback number, and an eleven character identifier that I was to provide them on my return call. I played the message four times before I could catch all the digits.

Make Sure Your Numbers Work: I called the number. It rang a couple of times, I received the typical “your call may be recorded” message, heard another ring, and then silence. Repeated calls produced the same result. A few days later, my attempt was greeted with an announcement: “At this time we are unable to answer your call; please try your call again later.” I’ll never know if they want me to take another survey or not, but if I do get that chance, I’ll be sure to remind them how important it is to make sure their phones are working and that they actually answer calls.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books: Sticky Leadership and Management, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.

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