Foafexperts – The Customer’s Mate Down The Pub is Always Right

Learning

Learning

There is a term in the world of mysterious Fortean events to describe the sort of story that starts with “Apparently…” and is about some paranormal event witnessed by a “Friend of a Friend” hence they are called “foaftales”.  It seems though that the foafs have moved beyond the esoteric and become experts on absolutely everything.  Maybe it’s the internet’s illusion of knowledge – you can of course search and find many true answers on the net can’t you – but more often you encounter members of the public with no prior involvement in the industry they’re dealing with telling the person with many years of experience either what they know or how to do their job.  As they say a little knowledge is a bad thing.

For example a customer who when told they need safety glass in a door replies angrily “it doesn’t need toughened, it’s only an internal timber door” or others who say “the double glazed units were obviously made wrong because they’re not supposed to break down (get condensation inside) at all, I know how they work” to the one who wanted a sealed unit straight away “I shouldn’t have to wait, I know how long they take to make” – really, would you like a job?  I also encountered a customer with no prior experience of double-glazed glass units who insisted that I was measuring the thickness of the unit he’d brought in wrongly, as was an equally experienced colleague, and told me I needed to get a measuring caliper – I did and came up with the same measurement, surprisingly.

Part of this is someone who knows a little about a subject who wants to show off to their friend that they’re some kind of expert, other times it may be someone trying to promote themselves by appearing knowledgable.   Sometimes the person may be trying to help but more often than not, they’re not.

So many people seem to have a father-in-law who’s “in the trade” and knows that what you’re saying is wrong – this is almost always just a feeble attempt to prove that they haven’t made a mistake.  As for said expert often, who am I kidding, mostly, it turns out that they’ve either done a bit of DIY or they’re a joiner when the problem would be, for example, brickwork related, or worse still related to making the windows which is like a taxi driver saying that he’s an expert in assembling radios.  I’m a glass cutter by profession, I know next to nothing about making Murano glass vases so I wouldn’t try to tell a glass blower how to suck eggs, if you see what I mean.

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The Personal Touch

so happy smiling cat

so happy smiling cat (Photo credit: [puamelia])

I’m currently enjoying my week off but on Monday I did have to go to the bank to pay the only bill I don’t pay by Direct Debit and also pay some money in to my account.

As I’ve written about before I’m no fan of the new automated paying-in and bill paying machines with which I have a difficult history, so as the bank was quiet I went to a teller without being dragged back to the machine this time.  I said good morning and so on and told the lady what I wanted to do, she then told me that I could do the same using the machines, I told her in a round-about way that the machine and I are not on amicable terms at the moment.

She glanced at her screen after I’d put my card in the reader and smiled, saying “one thing the machine can’t do is wish you a Happy Birthday.”

Which gave me a smile and a warm feeling inside which technology just can’t match.

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Out of The Loop?

Call Centre

Call Centre (Photo credit: The Poss)

The term “Jobsworth” was coined long ago and people who are inflexible in their decision-making at work when they really could be are everywhere but today’s nationwide and worldwide companies are making it worse by making it institutionalised.  The problem with centralised customer services and computerised operations and logistics systems is that a person cannot make an on-the-spot decision to make things easier.

This is true of many things including transport, the prices of goods – where once staff have to jump through hoops to give a bit of a discount for a slightly damaged item for example, or loans where decisions are mostly made by computers based on credit scores.

There can’t be a grey area, decisions are yes, or often as the Little Britain sketch goes “computer says nooo”.  I have another parcel on a courier (Yodel) and they tried to deliver it while I was at work twice and then according to their website the only option then was to collect it from their depot, twenty miles away, that’s only open when I’m at work.  I rang them and the customer service person gave me the option to have it redelivered – when I’m at work.  I had to ring Amazon to change the delivery address to my work one – Catherine at Amazon was very nice and helpful.  What happened next was that I looked at Yodel’s site on the Saturday and the parcel was out for delivery – on a day that, according to their site and the customer service man, wasn’t  even an option; he was only able to look at the same data I had access to.  I was at home, I didn’t know whether Amazon’s request had gone though, whether they were delivering to my home or the work address I wasn’t at.  My parcel was in danger of travelling around more than January’s camera.

This inconvenienced me but it shouldn’t have; if I were able to call the local depot, talk to a person who has the parcel in front of them, someone who could say “we do actually deliver on Saturday, will you be at home then?”  I’d say yes and they’d schedule one more delivery attempt, I wouldn’t have had to ring Amazon.  I had stuff to do but I couldn’t because now I’ve got to wait in, if I’d known I could have done these things the day before as, being Good Friday I was off work – as were Yodel.

This reliance on computer systems is fine if the person accessing them has all the relevant data they need but often they don’t and these systems don’t often allow any flexibility whatsoever in the decision-making process.  “The computer says Tuesday so Tuesday it is, except it could be Saturday but because I’m two hundred miles away from the depot I don’t know that they have a van going out on Saturday and I wouldn’t have the authority to ask them to deliver on Saturday if I did anyway, and they might even just try again on Saturday even though the computer says you’ve got to fetch it yourself.”

Our company, and other small firms we work with have that flexibility, we can slot extra jobs in dynamically because not everything is set in stone.  Admittedly that can work the other way and things have to be rearranged.  It’s not just computers though that cause the problems, so many companies have inflexible rules that don’t allow people to give a little to provide good service.

If you can say to a customer who’s not got quite enough money with them “it’s only 20p difference, I’ll take what you’ve got there” or give them a little something for free whether it’s a bookmark, a pen, a handful of tacks or whatever it makes them feel that you’re doing something to help them, it gives them a warm feeling inside and makes them more likely to come back.  Not being able to bypass a rigid system, or not having the right information because of rules or “yes and no” computers makes the customer feel like they’re fighting a battle to get what they want.

Sometimes there’s no choice, as I’ve said before about warranties and the time it takes to make things but where a little flexibility is possible it shouldn’t be held back but allowed to make everyone’s life a bit more pleasant.

Little Tantrums

Customer Redemption

Customer Redemption (Photo credit: Neil T)

I’ve not written much this week due to having had a busy week at work which included being attacked by a sheet of glass that shattered on me and pierced my glove, leaving a nice chevron shaped hole above my thumb.

Twas but a scratch.

The thing about this week that I feel like writing about here is some people’s attitude and behaviour towards others when things aren’t going quite their way.

We all have situations in our lives which are not ideal – something doesn’t go according to plan, something takes longer than expected, something breaks.  Most of us though have the ability to cope with these difficulties – major and minor – with grace and a level-headed attitude, but today it seems increasingly true that people are becoming less tolerant of problems in their lives and instead of dealing with them in a reasonable manner they immediately lash out and throw a tantrum at the first person they encounter.

So often this is a shop assistant, call centre employee, delivery driver, the list goes on.  But most of the time this person is not responsible for the problem and would probably like to help to solve it given the chance.

In my job this week I have had one customer immediately start ranting that a product was not perfect and before I could even offer a solution this customer began loudly telling me, in a very patronising manner, what I would be doing to to recitfy it.

The other began calling me various unflattering names because I couldn’t instantly provide an exact date for when a product would be available.

Both are symptomatic of a sense of entitlement in society, often associated with percieved status – whether it be financial or a sense of self-importance – combined with a lack of respect for others which leads people to believe that if they shout loud enough then they’ll get what they want, because they should have it, right now, not tomorrow, why should they wait, they’re important!

I find that I’ll go the extra mile for a customer who is polite and has reasonable requests, and that’s true of many people I know in customer service.  Perhaps these people did get what they wanted when they threw tantrums as children, but I think part of the problem is the recently more widespread idea that we can have what we want whenever we want it, and indeed we should expect it.  You get too used to that idea and it comes as a shock when someone says “no”.