Is Your Customer Service and Fulfillment Working For or Against You?

customer service, customer care, customer contact center, operations and fulfillment, retail, customer experience, returns, retail returnsAfter 12 years of faithful service, our washing machine gave up the ghost, going the way of all major appliances.

So we did all our initial research on the internet and compared many options, including utilitarian websites with good pictures and information. Then we visited stores, and ended up buying from one of the three largest manufacturers/retailers. The new washer was $700 and had more features than you can imagine. Whatever happened to throw the clothes in, add detergent and push start?

The customer service fiasco that followed made me think about how customer contact and fulfillment centers play a crucial part in delivering customer satisfaction. Here’s my tale of woe.

Our old washer/dryer was stackable to save critical space, and we were told that the new washer would be stackable with the old dryer – no problem! Once here, the delivery person took one look at our setup and loaded it back on the truck; not stackable. After 30 minutes of runaround, the store apologized for a “new employee’s mistake.”

Over the weekend, further research showed that the only way to have stackable units was to buy an entirely new set (more money was not what we wanted to hear). Our decision was to have a carpenter reconfigure the space and use the units side by side. After another call, the retailer delivered the same unit the next week, installed it and now we have tremendous noise issues with the new washer. It can’t be installed correctly.

My frustrated calls to the contact center went like this:

I described the noise, and the CSR’s response was, “Our training manual says to tell the customer to call a plumber.” My response: “No, I paid you $100 to install it.”

“When can a service man come out?” I asked. The CSR: “In 10 days but he may not be able to fix it.” By now we have been at the laundromat for 10 days and were looking at 10 days more. Trying to appease me, the young CSR actually told me, “We will pay for the laundromat.” So I asked how much money and for how long?

She put me on hold and her supervisor came back on the line. There was no mention of laundromat compensation; obviously another unscripted error. By now I am 30 minutes into this fiasco with no reasonable resolution. I told the supervisor “come get the machine if you’re not willing to send someone and fix it.” They are sending a third washer and a crew to install it this week.

Reflecting upon this I think there are some valuable lessons as we think about operations strategies:

No matter what happens, they have lost my business forever: Bad news travel fast. When it’s resolved, I may return to the website to post a review.

Customer care opportunity missed: What’s interesting is the ubiquitous IVR line, “This call may be monitored or recorded for training or quality assurance purposes.” No one with any customer service, sales and marketing smarts can be listening to this nonsense. You have to feel sorry for the salesman who wasn’t trained or guided by a supervisor or a lead. And the contact center people are hung out to dry; just hoping you’ll hang up or the line will get disconnected.

The delivery service is independent of the retailer: They apparently don’t have any technical training or capabilities to help the customer; they just connect the machine and run down the driveway to their truck. They don’t even test a batch of wash to see how the machine works. They are the only people making any money.

The retailer loses: They’ve had two sales and two returns on an expensive product with low gross margins. Two used machines get parked in the scratch and dent, “sell as is” corner of the store. And a third machine is on the way.

Do you have a call monitoring program in place? Are you working every week to train and coach your employees as they serve your customers? Their performance is what completes the sales process and books the sale in the bank.

How often does your management review calls? As we consult with multichannel companies, we find as they grow that management often loses contact with what customers are actually saying.  I’m speaking here of marketing, merchandising, fulfillment and customer service management.

Our recommendation: Have a regular group lunch and learn and listen to calls (live or recorded) – it will be instructive. Recently when I did this with a client, they fielded a lot of product, installation and warranty questions, and addressed website issues; all types of problems that required experience and skills. Only 25% of them were phone sales.

Single-call resolution: How skilled are your employees all along the way at answering customer questions rather than transferring calls? In my scenario you have store associates, contact center personnel and outside services. At each step we were transferred rather than having the problem addressed smartly and in a short period of time.

You may have a great website and great marketing strategy, but never forget that contact center and fulfillment personnel are the ones delivering on the sale – and your brand’s promise.

Curt Barry is president of F. Curtis Barry & Company