There’s a famous sketch in the UK comedy show, Little Britain, in which every request made to a bank clerk meets with the same response: “computer says no”.
Attitudes like that can leave you feeling frustrated to say the least – and maybe even motivated to flame the offending company in online forums, on Twitter and wherever else you can find an outlet to vent about how bad they are.
I’ve had a few ‘computer says no’ moments recently. Trying to get a refund from a large retailer, I was told ‘it’s not our department’ and ‘you’ll need to call back on Monday’. This was from a ‘customer service representative’.
The issue wasn’t whether or not I was eligible for a refund – that was accepted. It was just that the staff dealing with customer calls and emails didn’t have the authority to override a process that worked in the interests of the company, not the customer.
When I did call back I was told that my refund had become ‘stuck in the system’ and it would take several days to free it.
Now, I don’t believe the customer is always right. But faced with intransigence and poor service like this, most customers will simply walk away. Once the money – my money – is safely returned to my bank account, I’ll never darken their doorstep again.
Empower your staff
What are the business communication lessons from this?
Firstly, if you have customer service staff, cut them some slack so they don’t just read from a script and stick to a rigid process that will ultimately harm your reputation. Empower them to make decisions in the interests of your customers.
That doesn’t mean allowing staff to do anything, but it means enabling them to have a bit of flexibility, so they can apply some common sense according to the circumstances.
Secondly, customers couldn’t care less about the internal workings of any company, they simply want whatever it is they bought to work and be delivered on time. If there are problems, they want them sorted out quickly and efficiently.
Communicating a message such as ‘it’s not my department’ or ‘that’s not how our process works’ or blaming ‘system problems’ simply doesn’t cut it.
Speak like a human being and take some responsibility. You won’t make everybody happy, but you’ll gain more respect, which in the long run is worth a lot.