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The Customer Service Wake-Up Call

Customer service wake-up call

The Customer Service Wake-up Call

Author’s Note: This was one my all time favorite chapters to write in all of my books. In Chapter 21 of  The Journey to WOW, the executive team at Household Solutions gets a first-hand glimpse at why customers don’t like them. I think it is an experience every single one of us have had. These are the kinds of experiences so many people in leadership are unaware of in their own organizations.

“Okay,” Cameron began, “Let’s play a game.” He stepped to the corner of the room, and reached into one of the large cardboard boxes that had been sitting unobtrusively beside a long credenza. He began pulling out Household Solutions products, and handing them to the people seated around the table. When he was finished, he went back to the front of the room.

“Each of you now has one of our products in your hands. Each product is in a sealed box, exactly as our customers would buy it in a store.” Cameron reached into his pocket, pulled out a fifty-dollar bill, and set it on the table. “I’d like you to pretend that the product you’re holding is defective, and you’re having challenges getting our warranty honored. This fifty,” he said, “is for the first person who figures out how to successfully complain to us about it.”

At first, everyone just sat there, looking at Cameron. Was he serious? Then they all started turning the boxes over in their hands, scanning them for contact information. Gerard reached into his pocket and pulled out a small Swiss Army knife and cut open the tape sealing his Auto-Baste Broiler. He pulled out the instruction manual and started leafing through it. Humphries reached over to borrow the knife, and did the same thing for her Xact-Portion Spice Dispenser. Soon, everyone around the table was flipping back and forth through their manuals. Syd pulled out his phone and began surfing the Household Solutions website. Two minutes later, he raised his fist in triumph. “Got it!” he exclaimed, reaching for the fifty. Cameron snatched it away before the COO’s hand got to it.

“Not so fast!” Cameron warned. “What did you find?”

“Right here on our website,” Syd said poking his phone, “under Contact Us, there’s an address for warranty support.”

“An address?” Gerard said. “No telephone number? No email address?”

“Nope,” Syd began, “No, wait—I found a number, tucked away in the corner.” He looked up at Cameron. “Now give me my fifty.”

“Call the number first,” said Cameron. “Then we’ll see about the fifty.”

Syd looked at him suspiciously. Cameron slid a telephone over to him. He’d been prepared for this, too. “Put it on speakerphone so we all can hear,” he instructed Syd. Warily, Syd punched the numbers into the dial pad of the phone. One ring. Two rings. On the third ring, a friendly-sounding automated female voice came through the speaker.

“Thank you for calling Household Solutions, the world leader in household innovation. If you know the extension of the person you are calling, please dial or say the number now. To talk to a customer service representative, say ‘customer service.’”

“Customer service,” Syd said, leaning closer to the phone.

“I’m sorry,” the friendly voice said, “I couldn’t understand your response. Please try again.”

“Customer service,” Syd said again, this time a little slower and louder.

“I’m sorry,” the friendly voice said, “I couldn’t understand your response. Please try again.”

Syd looked around the room. He rolled his eyes, rubbed his temples, and glanced at Cameron. “CUSTOMER SERVICE!” He said one more time, a lot louder.

There was a pause on the other end of the line. Finally the voice came back on saying, “I’m sorry you’re having troubles. Please try again later.” And the next thing everyone heard was a dial tone.

The room was silent. Gerard’s face paled. Syd reached over and punched the disconnect button on the telephone. His usual pleasant demeanor was gone. He looked up at Cameron, then wordlessly, he hit the redial button.

“Thank you for calling Household Solutions, the world leader in household innovation . . .” the voice came on again, happy as ever. Syd punched the zero button, and the voice said, “I’m sorry, you have pushed an invalid extension. Please try again.” Syd’s face was red with frustration now. It was a sharp contrast to Gerard’s. The blood had completely drained from his now, leaving it a pasty white.

“C-u-s-t-o-m-e-r S-e-r-v-i-c-e” Syd said, enunciating with comic slowness.

“Thank you,” the cheerful voice said. “Let me connect you. Before I do, tell me, what product are you calling about?”

Syd buried his head in his hands and then looked up. “Follow-Me Track Light,” he said, referring to the kitchen counter lighting system he had in front of him.

“I’m sorry,” the cheerful woman said, “I’m not sure I understood your response. Did you say vertical drop toaster?”

Syd was angry now. “No, I did not!” he shouted at the telephone in the middle of the table. “I said, Follow-Me Track Light!’”

“I’m sorry,” the voice said happily to a collective groan from the room, “I still didn’t understand your response. Please wait, and I will get a customer service representative.”

Syd looked around the room incredulously. Abbot actually slapped his forehead. Gerard sat frozen, staring at the telephone. Cameron picked up his mug and had a sip of coffee.

A moment later, a male voice came on the telephone. In contrast to the warmth of the computer voice, his was cool and disinterested. “Customer service, how may I help you?” he said.

“I’m having some problems with my Follow-Me Track Light. It doesn’t seem to work,” Syd said into the phone.

“What sort of problems?” the voice came back.

“It doesn’t work,” Syd repeated with annoyance. “What do I do to get a new one?”

“You should return it to the store you purchased it from, sir. They will look after it,” the voice said flatly, without elaborating.

“I bought it two months ago, and the store won’t take it back,” Syd said. The entire senior management team was leaning forward on the boardroom table now in breathless silence. It was like listening to a train wreck.

“In that case, sir, you’ll need to speak with our warranty support department.” The disembodied voice actually sounded annoyed.

“O-kayyyy,” Syd said slowly and deliberately, his frustration barely in check. “How would one go about doing that?”

“You just call the main number and say ‘warranty support’ at the voice prompt,” the voice came back in a tone that suggested that this was something everyone knew.

“Thank you,” Syd said with exaggerated politeness. “I don’t suppose you could connect me?”

An irritated sigh came through the speaker. There was a click, a pause, and then, “Thank you for calling Household Solutions, the world leader in household innovation. If you know the extension of the person you are calling, please dial or say the number now. To talk to a customer service representative, say ‘customer service’ . . .”

Cameron had only ever seen the affable COO truly angry on two occasions in the entire ten years he had been at Household Solutions. This was the third, and it eclipsed the first two by a large margin. Rosen was standing now, face crimson, leaning over the telephone. “WARRANTY SUPPORT!” he shouted at it, daring it to disobey him.

There was a brief pause, and the happy woman’s voice returned. “You have reached Household Solutions warranty support line. If your appliance requires repair or replacement, please return it to the store from which it was purchased. If it is past the store’s return date, and within the product warranty date, please contact Household Solutions’ customer service department at . . .” She recited the main number, thanked the caller, and then the line went dead. Syd pounded the disconnect button with his fist, silencing the dial tone, then fell back in his chair staring at the ceiling. There was a long pause while everyone just sat.

It was Cameron who broke the thick stillness. “Any questions?” he said quietly, reaching toward the center of the table, retrieving the fifty. Silent headshakes from around the room.

“Yeah, I’ve got one,” Rosen muttered, still staring at the ceiling. “Are we almost done? I have to go down to our call center and kick some serious butt.”

It was Gayle Humphries who spoke next. She was quiet and deliberate. “Cameron, what else have you found?” she asked.

“A few other things,” Cameron admitted. “Equally disturbing. You don’t even want to know about our live-chat process, or why we’re not selling many molds for our Ice-Cream Cake Maker. I’d tell you about them, but I’m concerned about Syd’s heart.” Syd permitted himself a little smile, then resumed his glowering.

“The thing is,” Cameron said, “we haven’t been seeing these things because we haven’t been looking at the world from our customer’s perspective. And there’s no way we can even begin to fix our problem until we have a better idea of what it’s like to be Household Solutions customers. We need to start asking ourselves the same questions our customers are asking us—the why questions—then work our way back from there.”

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