The T-Mobile commercial out right now with Rainn Wilson calling customer service is all of us. How many times have you called an 800-number and are literally yelling into the phone, “REPRESENTATIVE!”
But more than just automated prompts getting you nowhere, when you actually speak to an agent on the phone (or email, or chat), nine times out of 10, you get absolutely no resolution. In fact, you may be worse off than when you started, or even more annoying, more frustrated.
In a time when even the most iconic brands are facing challenges with new customer shopping habits, consumers are much less brand-loyal and more driven by performance, convenience and price. So shouldn’t customer service be at the forefront?
Brands: You’re Doing It Wrong
Yahoo email, I just can’t quit you. I still have a yahoo account that I used to use for retailer emails but after doing a purge last fall, I decided to just unsubscribe from a lot and move everything else over to my gmail to make things easy. When I tried changing my email with a few key retailers I wanted to keep, it was an absolute disaster. Some STILL send emails to my yahoo, some just stopped emailing me, and some did go to my gmail (very few), but I lost my custom settings and preferences like local store news and petite sizing.
This is more of an ecommerce marketing back end issue, but I did reach out to a few customer service folks of the ones I really wanted. Like a popular athleisure brand, we’ll just call them Athleisure. They used to send me emails that were custom to my store at the bottom with their in-store events. They’ll frequently have free fitness classes and pop ups so I want to stay up to date on them. My first email resulted in this response:
To sign up to receive notifications for your local Athleisure store, you will need to visit the store and ask them to register you. Sadly, we are unable to do this via email and apologize for any inconvenience caused.
When I responded that I used to get these emails just fine and set it via their website, this was their second response:
Currently, we give our customers the option to select email updates from a variety of categories (such as Women’s, Men’s, Baby, etc). To make sure you are getting the emails you want, we invite you to update your preferences directly from our website. To do so, please follow these 5 easy steps (then they went on to direct me how to do this).
So then I said, I actually tried that several times and it still wasn’t happening. And I then received this:
Thanks for your feedback regarding our Athleisure store events. Athleisure regularly brings in new merchandise and great new colors in our classic items to keep our website fresh and exciting. Our goal is to offer a range of merchandise that’s tailored to the specific desires of our customer base; for athletic performance wear plus fashion and accessories. To find classes and events, click link below and choose FIND CLASSES AND EVENTS. At the store locator, find the store near you by typing your zip code and click FIND. When you find the store nearest you, click on Store Classes and Events.
That makes three completely different responses, and some irrelevant information…and I still am not getting these tailored emails. Now I don’t want to knock this place. I love their stuff. But really? This was clearly three different customer service agents simply copy/pasting canned company responses into the emails to me. And really not taking the time to try and help.
When I worked in fashion retail, I actually helped lead our customer service team with social media responses. It was oh so challenging. First, like many retailers, we outsourced a company to save on costs. And we used their international team in Guatemala which was even more of a cost-savings to the company. When it comes to social media, in my opinion, customer engagement should be the top priority, especially if you are selling a consumer product, like clothing. So I spent hours and hours trying to coach this team. I set weekly touch bases with their team lead, monthly meetings with the agents, and sent emails when I identified a learning or wanted to praise someone. We did quizzes, role-playing — you name it. The truth of the matter is, these companies have extremely high turnover. They ask A LOT from people, who don’t get paid very much. They are unlikely to be motivated. So you’re stuck with these types of copy/paste responses (across any touchpoint a customer asks for help — whether it be via email, Facebook DM, or the phone). And even in the same message chain, they don’t read the first part of the conversation, so it’s like starting new each time, like my Athleta example.
One other thing that blows my mind is a lot of retailers do not offer free returns. I ordered from Mackenzie Childs over the holidays and decided to return my item but of course, the fine print says they don’t offer free returns and they don’t even refund your original shipping! So I was out about $25 for something I didn’t even keep. As a brand new customer, I emailed and called expressing my frustration and all they could say was copy/paste “we apologize for any confusion” jargon. As a customer, all I heard was, “Oh well! We don’t really care.” It’s 2019 — Amazon will destroy you if you don’t up your shipping game.
Customer Service Winners
There are some brands, though, who do a great job. Every single time I dial 1-800-Contacts, a person answers. Not a robot. And they call me by name and ask if I want to order the same thing as last time. It’s so easy that I actually prefer to call and do this over the phone than order online. I have to think their online ordering is super simple, too. LL Bean also answers the phone with a real live human person, who is friendly. I lost the fur part of my coat and the woman I spoke with couldn’t order me a replacement, but she sure tried to be helpful. Although I was disappointed they couldn’t give me more fur, I was so happy to have someone attempt to try rather than be lazy and blow me off.
A recent Forbes article epitomized what a brand should be in 2019 (since we all can’t be Amazons, after all).
When Tom Feeney became president of Safelite (repair, Safelite replace – sorry, can’t say that without singing the jingle!), the company doubled its revenue. Yet Feeney wasn’t happy. He didn’t want the status quo — he wanted to go deeper and focus on the customer.
The article begins to talk about its next steps for getting there, launching its initiative that forced them to relook at their practices again from a customer perspective.
You can read on here – it’s a fantastic story.
All this to say, so often we do our jobs without thinking about the audience. It’s a simple task, yet often overlooked. After all, you have goals and objectives that most of the time are not your own to meet and report on. You have bosses and boards and c suites. Who cares if we didn’t get to all the Instagram comments – we drove our ROI on the Instagram ads and that’s all that matters!
In a world of chat bots automating everything, it’s harder than ever to keep it real. But it IS possible to do both. As a matter of fact, Safelite, after becoming customer-centric, again doubled its revenue. Money and people can merge. So let’s bring back good customer service. You may just receive some brand loyalty after all.