Customer Service: Nobody home

Enterprises need to take customer service seriously, and start using available technologies to do so, says Eliot Beer.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  November 18, 2007

Customer service in the Middle East tends to fall into one of two camps - fawning, or abysmal. The former is generally found at the swankier regional destinations - such as high-end hotels and restaurants. Frustratingly, the latter is to be found almost everywhere else - and even more frustratingly, is generally easily solvable with some basic best practices - and some technology.

Before I go on, I should declare an interest: I've spend the past few days trying to have my name removed from a sales lead list, which delivered me three calls in as many days, offering me a credit card I didn't want from a bank with which I have no relationship (and which will remain nameless - unless it makes another call, anyway...)

Aside from the extremely rude sales staff which actually made the offending calls, the most irritating aspect of the affair has been the painful procedure of getting through to anyone in the bank who could help with my complaint.

The original cold caller gave me only an (incorrect) website address - before refusing to supply a phone number, e-mail address or even postal address. The first receptionist I spoke to (after being cut off twice) gave me an inactive number. The second receptionist gave me a number for business banking. The third receptionist gave me the number for the firm's telephone banking service. The fourth receptionist (after cutting me off three times and putting me on hold for two minutes) gave me a number for the ‘quality service department'. Who didn't pick up.

Finally, after repeated attempts at the number, I managed to get through to a very understanding gentlemen, who proceeded to search his systems for any trace of my number. He found none - although as he explained, he would only find details if I were already a customer. He left me with a promise of call-back within a few hours. At the time of writing, I'm still waiting for this to happen.

A cynic might suggest that this confused approach is a deliberate ploy by the bank to discourage people from doing anything but signing up for new products - certainly it would have been easier for the firm (which is, incidentally, a major international organisation) if I had just given up. Had I not been quite so angry about the repeated calls, I probably would have done.

Instead, I would suggest this is more cock-up than conspiracy - but what is frustrating is how elemental the problem actually is: a lack of decent and consistent training across the enterprise, both in terms of procedures and general organisational knowledge.

The solution to the problem is simple to state, but harder to execute: training and education. This particular bank could benefit hugely from making sure its staff know basic information such as phone numbers and procedures for complaints - it might even have had a shot at snaring me as a customer one day, had its approach to my problem been more professional.

Nowadays, there is no excuse for this level of poor service. While enterprises have indeed grown larger and more complex, new systems have arisen which make disseminating information to employees very straight-forward - and new communications systems such as IP telephony have made routing queries simpler still.

Customer-facing organisations in the region need to start taking service more seriously, especially as economic pressure looks likely to grow in the near future. At the moment, though, it really does feel like the lights are on, but there's still nobody home.

3586 days ago
Manish

Elliot, 
While there have been numerous occasions where I have recd calls from banks etc however we have to understand couple of things - first of all, these callers are paid 10 AED/hour (or little bit more) so the level of awareness is very poor. Next they receive a list containing 10,000 names (where you and I exist) from 3rd party companies that specialize in databases. 
 
So one way to beat the system is to give everyone whom you don't trust a fake number. So often I change the last digit of my mobile number but give the proper fixed number. If my bank is desparate to reach me, they will do it by fixed line or snail mail also. Mobile isn't the only alternative, right????? 
 
All the luck with the calls. 
M

3594 days ago
Mohanasundaram

Hi, I share the experience about the customer service at banks. I presume almost all the banks here behave that way. This is true even if you are an existing customer. The frontline people are not trained to handle customers properly. Once when I enquired about a charge done to my credit card, I was told that is how the system calculates the charge and they have no control over it. When I insisted that I should get a proper explaination and should not suffer because of their SYSTEM, Prompt came the reply "this is the credit card" "this is how it is". I was constantly denied access to talking to their manager. The reason being, the manager too cannot explain anything better. Such appaling and atrocious conversations are recorded, I am told. I wonder how these recordings are used in their trainings. With regards, Mohan.

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