Having had a rather irritable conversation with a parcel delivery company today, this was an issue that really struck a chord. While I feel for the young lady that got stuck dealing with me, I am disappointed that ownership seems to be lacking.
Although now self-employed the customer service principles I used to teach my team when employed as a customer service manager in local government still form an important part of my work ethics. Ownership is vital for anyone dealing with a customer that has a complaint. Ownership is not the same as admitting responsibility or liability, it is an acknowledgement that you are the representative of your company, that rightly or wrongly, the client feels has failed them. It is a desire to help them resolve their issue, whether that be to rectify something that turns out to be a failure on the part of your company – or whether the customer has the wrong end of the stick – which does happen.
Is the Customer Always Right?
The customer is always right is outdated thinking, because frankly, that is an incorrect statement. But, rightly or wrongly the customer should be offered assistance to sort their problem rather than a string of excuses and buck-passing. It was a core skill that formed part of day one training, as well as key phrases like:
- Unfortunately, I do not have that information but I am going to make sure I get it for you
- While I cannot make that decision I am going to ensure I find someone who can
It seems a shame that this basic level of ownership doesn’t seem to form part of call taking these days. Statements like:
- I can’t do that
- I do not have that information
are not remotely helpful to the customer who has clearly got something that needs a resolution. I hate closed statements and banned them from my call centre. If a negative needs to be said, such as I cannot do that – it MUST be followed immediately with a – but this is what I am going to do instead.
Arguing with customer service agents may seem mean, but I am always polite and, simply try and get them to understand that leaving someone hanging is not the best policy.
My issue today was that the barcode that was emailed to me, which I diligently printed and affixed to my parcel was the wrong one. When the courier arrived to collect it, the computer said no. At that moment the system failed. He had no means of even beginning to sort it and hightailed it as fast as possible, leaving me with a parcel that should have left the building.
Who Is Responsible?
I think we all understand that the person at the end of the helpline is not personally responsible, but they are the point of first contact. So, they either need to take ownership or handover to someone that can help – without leaving the customer hanging. When she realised that I was not going to go away and that my issue needed a resolution she finally managed to get one sorted. After I handed her the obvious answer. My parcel has been upgraded and moved to a different courier who will collect tomorrow and ensure delivery on Thursday as originally scheduled.
In this instance, I can confidently say I was not responsible in any way for the error having followed the instructions I was given. But as I went round in circles with the agent that doing nothing could not possibly be the outcome, it occurred to me that what was missing was ownership. In an age of automation – which I actually love and support, we need to be aware that while AI can assist us and streamline services, humans still have to maintain ownership. How the wrong barcode was printed is a back office issue that should now be triggered as part of their internal investigations, but from a customer-facing point of view, staff should be offering ownership in every case.
In my humble opinion
Anna Everett is a responsive social media marketing expert, freelance writer, author and self-confessed Geek Girl.