About customer service.

The other morning , my computer “crashed”.

When I turned it on , all I got was a gentle whirring fan noise.

Now , I’m not very “handy” . That is to say , I’m not allowed to handle sharp or valuable objects by anyone who knows me well.

So, other than kicking this “box” – I didn’t know what to do.

One thing was certain – I was out of business until it decided to start up again. I didn’t realize how computer dependant I had become. My entire life , business and personal is recorded in “the box”. So I had to solve it. And quickly.

I wasn’t too worried. The system had been a recent gift and was certainly still under warranty. So all I had to do was track down the slip that arrived with the system when it was shipped to me and find out who was going to come over for a coffee and whip this thing back into shape.

Well, finding the necessary papers was a bit of a challenge but I finally located them in a box of photographs from my retirement party that coincided with the gift .

A natural place to file it I thought – after I had ripped the house apart.

The next move was to locate the service bureau closest to me .

Unfortunately the shipping documents only mentioned the name of the place that had sold the machine – not who made it. So I called their number in New Brunswick and was told that I should be calling their “special” 800 service number .

I was relieved to find out that they had a service operation and that it was an 800 number because I wasn’t too thrilled with having to call the east coast at my own expense to get my free warranty work set up.

But that’s when the trouble started. I called the 800 number and got a recording telling me that “all of their agents were busy”. But if I wanted to hang on the line and listen to some music for a while they’d be right with me. Every 30 seconds or so a voice would come on the line and tell me how important I was to them and assure me that all of their agents were still busy and I could wait some more or maybe I wanted to call back later.

I did eventually hang up and call back later a couple of times but immediately got back into the same rat race.

Finally I phoned the head office number again to suggest that they needed some more agents to service my valuable account only to be told that my problem was that all of the agents were currently at lunch.

Excuse me ?

Now I will not bore you with the digression of this negotiation which saw me discover to my horror that this firm does not have a service outlet or facility in the Toronto area. So, with the hour long help of the young voice I finally tracked down at the 800 number I took it apart myself and got it to work (sort of) .

Now I know why the lines are always busy.

I suppose it would be unreasonable of me to suggest that they might consider having a service depot in the vicinity of a secondary market like Toronto.

My point however is this .

How is it that so many businesses spend so much time and money to set up procedures that are designed to encourage customer retention but wind up doing exactly the opposite . Millions of words have been written and thousands of seminars conducted on the importance of customer service .

Why do so many of us do it badly ?

Tom Peters has made a fortune lecturing and writing on the obvious .

The cheapest way to get a customer is to keep the one you already have. The cost of developing new clients is enormous compared to the expense of retaining one

Would anyone really start out to establish an 800 service facility and then let all of the staff leave for lunch at the same time ? Would anyone design a system that is always too busy to talk to their customers.

I don’t think so.

But if you phone the customer helpline of many large organizations at virtually any hour of the night or day you will get that annoying voice informing you that “all of our operators are currently busy”…and while you wait on the line somebody equally supercilious will inform you repeatedly how important we are to them.

Are these operators always busy …maybe we could hire more operators? ….what a concept.

The technology that is available in today’s marketplace should allow us to service our clients and customers much better than we do.

Sure some of it is a bit tricky but there are lots of young people looking for work to show us how to use it properly.

You know , you can teach on old dog new tricks…but first , you’ve got to be smarter than the dog.