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Opinion Editorials

How brands fail at customer service [editorial]

Just as many companies have switched to overseas production and lower quality materials, customer relations has also taken a hit. Customer service has fallen by the wayside, with more and more companies focusing on higher quantities of customers, and forgetting about quality.

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The cornerstone of business

“The customer is always right” is a phrase that every businessperson and entrepreneur is familiar with. While the phrase may not be accurate, its message of customer service is one that has long been embraced as important to business success. In fact, adequately assessing the needs of the market, pricing your product or services at the right price point, managing costs, and keeping your customers happy are the major cornerstones of Business 101. Or at least they were.

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Is customer service a thing of the past?

Just as many companies have switched to overseas production and lower quality materials, customer relations has also taken a hit. Customer service has fallen by the wayside, with more and more companies focusing on higher quantities of customers, and forgetting about quality.  Customer service has become an Olympic sport of avoidance as companies are going to extreme measures to avoid interacting with customers. From adopting lengthy problem resolution processes to not making a phone number available to customers at all, customer service has hit an all time low.

Frustrating, or even unsatisfactory, customer experiences in business are inevitable, but having a proper channel of resolution can significantly diffuse the situation and remedy negative feelings from customers. This idea seems logical, yet I’ve managed to encounter customer experiences recently, personally and professionally, that leave me shaking my head.

Looking for help in all the wrong places

A couple of weeks ago we received a bill that had recently changed and I wanted more clarification on the price increase. My question was simple, and after searching for about ten minutes on their website, I decided to make a brief phone call in order to get clarification. My children were engaged in something that didn’t require my attention, so I figured since I wasn’t readily finding the information I needed online, I’d call and speak to someone. I was greeted immediately with a friendly sounding automation that informed me that I could speak my responses in lieu of typing a number to select my response. This seemed like an improvement to the automated customer service experience of the past. Ok, sure. I’ll play.

My first instruction was to state my reason for calling. It seemed like a long shot that the system would be able to decode my problem in this open-answer type prompt, and I was right. I was directed to another menu where I was to select one of eight different potential problems I needed assistance with – of course none of which applied. I was then moved along to the next menu, expecting at any point to encounter a “press 0 for an operator” option that never came. This is when my young children had some kind of immediate need that had to be addressed that very second or the world end, so I hung up the phone with the idea that I’d call back in a few minutes and attempt to bypass the automation altogether.

“Representative!”

After taking care of my children, and settling them back into an activity, I decided to try again to resolve my issue, this time with a different approach. As soon as the automation welcomed me to the phone call I began pressing numbers hoping to create confusion and yelling “Representative!” into the phone. This somehow worked, and I was able to speak with someone, but only after perseverance and about 45 minutes of wasted time.

Negative feelings linger

When I hung up the phone, while I had received the answer I sought in the beginning, I felt frustrated and annoyed. Clearly, as I am writing an editorial about poor customer service, these feelings have stuck with me and I let out a low grumble every time a correspondence from this company comes across my desk. Why did I have to try so hard to get an answer to a simple question? It seems as if companies have attempted to avoid communication at all costs with their customers. I understand having a tier one support option, maybe a FAQ page or similar, but during my pursuit for answers I began to feel as if they wanted me to give up. They were hoping I’d just say forget it and move on. If I was able to speak to a human, either on the phone or via the computer, I could have had my issue resolved in under five minutes – instead it took me nearly an hour.

Customer service matters

When starting a business venture it’s important to remember that your customers are an integral component to success. The image you portray extends beyond the quality of product you provide. If your customer doesn’t feel valued those feelings can tarnish even best deal they have received. On the flip side, if a consumer does feel valued they begin to associate quality service with a quality product, causing brand dedication, free word of mouth advertising, and a greater acceptance to change, including redesign and price increase.

The moral of this story is be sure the customer service funnel you have in place is effectively giving consumers the answers they need, with as little frustration as possible. Call your own automated help line, submit a ticket, and crosscheck your FAQs. Keep in mind that while the customer isn’t always right, the customer does like to feel as if they matter.

#ServeYourCustomersDummies

Megan Noel, a veteran ex-educator with a PhD in Early Childhood Education, enjoys researching life through the eyes of her two young children, while writing about her family’s adventures on IndywithKids.com. With a nearly a decade in small business and marketing, this freelance writer spends most evenings pouring over new ideas and writing articles, while indulging in good food and better wine.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Pamela Hartwell

    March 17, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    In pursuing a new career in real estate the disconnect is unfortunate but true in my experience on an almost daily bases. Trying to have plan for the recordings is not really possible. When the recordings start the iphone is put on speaker and other task can be performed while waiting. If I have to wait for the representative and be transferred to another dept., when the rep. gets on the telephone the stress level is so high I respond out of frustration and sometimes have to regroup for the reason of the call. There seems to be a disconnect created by the impersonal aspect of technology that extends to the relationship and function of our “Work.” Our service to man.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 23, 2016 at 10:53 am

      Very insightful, Pamela, thanks for adding that!

  2. Pingback: Social media is transitioning to in-app customer service - The American Genius

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Opinion Editorials

DNA tests are cool, but are they worth it?

(OPINION EDITORIAL) DNA tests are all the rage currently but are they worth potentially having your genetic makeup sold and distributed?

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Over the last few years, DNA testing went mainstream. Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have offered easy access to the insights of your genetics, including potential health risks and family heritage, through simple tests.

However, as a famously ageless actor once suggested in a dinosaur movie, don’t focus too much on if you can do this, without asking if you should do this.

When you look closely, you can find several reasons to wonder if sending your DNA to these companies is a wise choice.

These reasons mostly come down to privacy protection, and while most companies do have privacy policies in place, you will find some surprising loopholes in the fine print. For one, most of the big players don’t give you the option to not have your data sold.

These companies, like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, can always sell your data so long as your data is “anonymized,” thanks to the HIPPA Act of 1996. Anonymization involves separating key identifying features about a person from their medical or biological data.

These companies know that loophole well; Ancestry.com, for example, won’t even give customers an opt-out of having their DNA data sold.

Aside from how disconcerting it is that these companies will exploit this loophole for their gain at your expense, it’s also worth noting that standards for anonymizing data don’t work all that well.

In one incident, reportedly, “one MIT scientists was able to ID the people behind five supposedly anonymous genetic samples randomly selected from a public research database. It took him less than a day.”

There’s also the issue of the places where that data goes when it goes out. That report the MIT story comes from noted that 23andMe has sold data to at least 14 outside pharmaceutical firms.

Additionally, Ancestry.com has a formal data-sharing agreement with a biotech firm. That’s not good for you as the consumer, because you may not know how that firm will handle the data.

Some companies give data away to the public databases for free, but as we saw from the earlier example, those can be easy targets if you wanted to reverse engineer the data back to the person.

It would appear the only safe course of action is to have this data destroyed once your results are in. However, according to US federal regulation for laboratory compliance stipulates that US labs hold raw information for a minimum of 10 years before destruction.

Now, consider all that privacy concern in the context of what happens when your DNA data is compromised. For one, this kind of privacy breach is irreversible.

It’s not as simple as resetting all your passwords or freezing your credit.

If hackers don’t get it, the government certainly can; there’s even an instance of authorities successfully obtaining a warrant for DNA evidence from Ancestry.com in a murder trial.

Even if you’re not the criminal type who would worry about such a thing, the precedent is concerning.

Finally, if these companies are already selling data to entities in the biomedical field, how long until medical and life insurance providers get their hands on it?

I’ll be the first to admit that the slippery slope fallacy is strong here, but there are a few troubling patterns of behavior and incorrect assumptions already in play regarding the handling of your DNA evidence.

The best course of action is to take extra precaution.

Read the fine print carefully, especially what’s in between the lines. As less scrupulous companies look to cash in on the trend, be aware of entities who skimp on privacy details; DNA Explained chronicles a lot of questionable experiences with other testing companies.

Above all, really think about what you’re comfortable with before you send in those cheek swabs or tubes of spit. While the commercials make this look fun, it is a serious choice and should be treated like one.

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Opinion Editorials

How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.

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Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?

A new study to be published in the next Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.

But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.

Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?

The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.

However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”

The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.

The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.

In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.

In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”

Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.

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Opinion Editorials

Avoid the stack, conquer busy work as it comes

(PRODUCTIVITY) It’s easy overwhelmed with emails and a stack of real mail. But tackling as it comes may help to enhance organization and productivity.

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A few weeks ago, I was walking through my office (also known as my bedroom after 5 p.m.) and I noticed a stack of mail that I had tossed aside over the course of the last few months. While they were non-urgent, this collection of paperwork had been opened, read, and left unattended.

Now, this was a classic move of mine – leave a mess for Future Taylor to clean up. So, imagine my surprise when Present Taylor woke up and decided to put an end to “the stack.”

I sat down, went through everything, and took care of what needed to be done. Even though my wallet took a few hits, it felt great to have this cleared up and off my desk.

Right then and there, I made it a rule to let things only cross my desk once (unless there’s some extenuating circumstance in which it requires me to come back to it; i.e. my favorite sentence on this paperwork “This is not a final bill.”) There’s no point in drawing out the stress that “the stack” induce.

This led me to finally attacking something that’s been on my to-do list since I created my Gmail account in 2009 – create an organizational system.

I set aside some time to create folders (for individual projects, people I communicate with frequently, etc.)

While this is all stuff that you may have already implemented, my point is that this increase my productivity and lifted a weight off of my shoulders I didn’t acknowledge was there.

So, I encourage you to find one of those menial tasks that has been on your to-do list forever and tackle it.

This can include, organizing all of your electronic files into folders, updating your phone and email contacts, or going through all of your desk drawers to get rid of unneeded items. Organizing and freshening up your workspace can help increase your focus.

Once you’re organized and in gear, try the “let it cross your desk once” method. When an email comes in, respond to it or file it. When a bill comes in, pay it. You may be surprised at your rise in productivity.

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