Thursday, July 31, 2014

Customer Service in times of Digital Media

Customer is king!!! Customer is God!!! Customer comes first!!! and so on & so forth. We see these neatly displayed at retail outlets & restaurants, in shopping malls and hotels etc etc. However in our country customer service is really not understood by most big companies / brands OR does not matter to them. In this age and time where an individual customer can email the CEO or tweet to the Marketing head or just hash tag the brand and or company name and post on all social media we would think that companies and brands would take Customer Service more seriously and really DO something about it. But the truth in most cases is the opposite. The more easy it is to reach out to the customer/customer, the more the media and the immediacy, the worse the service to most customers. Some who are able to reach that one important top boss or make a ruckus on social media, get heard, and the rest continue to suffer.

So what's wrong? Well the first is that companies and brands fail to understand that with Digital media, each presence of the brand or company in the digital space is a touch point for the customer. So if they have a website or a Facebook page or a Twitter handle, or a LinkedIn page, these, are all now customer touch points.  So the first thing to do would be to make sure these touch points are customer friendly, and made for the customer and not for the marketing heads or CEO of the company, or, just made because one fine day in a meeting of the top brass they decided  - "Oh We need a Customer facing website and a FB page and a Twitter Handle so get an agency and get it done."

Now when I say make the touch points customer friendly all I am saying is make them for the customer. So that the customer can find what s/he wants quickly and do what they have to do easily and quickly. What happens instead is that the sites are heavy to load, the navigation sucks, finding anything is difficult and transacting or buying or renewing is the worst experience ever. It's as if the site was made with one motto. Just to have a website. Who cares what the customer's experience is like.

And that is true even for the large brands in Telecom or DTH. They are new age businesses so one would expect them to be leading the way. But Oh! they suck the most. Try renewing your yearly subscription for Tata Sky on their website or log in to Vodafone or Tata DoCoMo to manage your account or pay your bill, and you will get what I am saying. So my Tata DoCoMo experience was so frustrating - I could only pay the bills on explorer and never on Chrome, that too after multiple attempts, and writing them mails didn't work as they had some system in which you needed to mention some detail in the subject line for your mail to be delivered but even then my mails bounced every time etc etc...that I finally gave up our data Card. And that turned out to be a harrowing experience in itself as they took their own sweet time and kept on pestering me with calls to Not discontinue but not once did anyone try and figure out why or try to correct the same. They could not have anyways, because each time someone from a different department spoke to me and none knew what to do about the website.

I have been using a Vodafone connection since my first cell phone and so when I wanted a SIM card for my Tablet I took a Vodafone card. I am a registered user on the website but could not find how to add another card to my account and manage both numbers from one account. Then they launched an app to manage your account and services, bills etc and I downloaded it on my phone. Next tried to download it on my Tablet and I find Oh! They don't have one for tablets as yet. Really?? And these are Telecom Companies. I have named a few companies and brands here but they are not the only ones. My experience with Airtel Service & their Customer service was so bad that if I hear from anybody that they are considering Airtel I actually try my best to dissuade them.

TataSky has something called as for subscribers to check and renew their packages online. Last time I had to renew my subscription I logged on and after multiple attempts to try and figure out how to renew what I currently had with NO changes was finally able to do so. Instead of showing me what package I was subscribed to and offering me a choice to change or just renew by one click, they actually made me choose all the packages again and finally I paid the money online  as the package selection detailed and renewed the subscription for a year. Or So I thought!

A few days later I get a call from them saying "Oh you have renewed for a year but the money you paid is short" You have to pay 'x' amount more. When I persisted that I had paid as per the amount that was mentioned on the website the reply was - "Oh you must have logged on to mytatasky and renewed it from there and the revised package rates may not have been updated there'. He then went on to advice that I should have first checked the rates on tatasky and then logged in to mytatasky and paid as per the rates on tatasky and not as on mytatasky. I refused to budge and said I wanted to speak to someone senior. Senior was busy so I was told they would call back. He did call back after a day and all the Senior had to say was - I don't know what you saw on which website and paid. The rates have been revised and if it wasn't updated on the website I cannot do anything. Your amount is less so we cannot renew it for a year unless you pay the balance amount and that is that.

And not only the website, their company pages and Handles on Social Media are no better either.

I have named a few brands here but they are not the only ones and most others are no better either. But while at it let me clarify. It's not that their product or service itself is bad but it's the customer experience that we are talking of here, when s/he has to connect or interact with the company or its customer interface or representatives.

The second problem is the compartmentalization within companies. So while website is handled by marketing or at times the PR department, billing is finance controlled, CRM is a separate entity, Social Media is handled by PR department or the agency, Marketing is connected to all of these or some of these but really does not know what's going on or is interested as they are focused on advertising. One of the big problems I guess with most big companies is that they tend to outsource most of their so called Noncore work. So CRM,  Social media, Website Creation and updating, etc etc are all outsourced, while the companies concentrate on their core areas. Now, I never understood how CRM or any other Customer touch point could be noncore, but that's the way it is. The companies & brands are busy acquiring new customers and upgrading their services and offerings but somehow no one seems to be bothered about the customers and their experience.

What companies and brands miss out on is that poor customer interface - in any form - be it digital or on phone or in person also means missing out on new business. My recent experience with some leading Car brands & their response to my intent on purchasing a new car is an example where some lost out on a potential customer just because they did not get back with the promised test drive or just didn't respond or did not follow up after the initial inquiry. And this in a market in which sales are doing poorly and discounts and offers abound.

Yes India as a market is still growing and the main focus is to attract as many new customers as you can but then if you can't retain them then isn't it a bigger loss in the long run? After all, a repeat customer and a referral customer is always more valuable compared to acquiring a new one. But I guess for now they are all in the same boat and hence everyone's loss is everyone's gain at this time.

Blame it on a rapid pace of growth, blame it on competition, blame it on falling ARPU, blame it on market conditions or anything but the fact remains that if you ignore your customer today you will be the loser in the long run.

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