Quality in customer relations and services

The Indian media today is inundated by claims of marketers who promise exceptional customer service experiences, luring the unwary consumer to buy their product. They bolster their campaign with assurances that if anything goes wrong, there is always a human voice at a phone’s reach to fix the problem.

Yet, Indian businesses lose up to Rs.11,640 crore in revenue every year simply because customers end relationships when the company’s post-sales services fail to meet their expectations. About two in five Indians have threatened to switch to a competitor, while a third of them have hung up the phone on customer care executives. Sadly, ninety percent of Indian customers have experienced poor post-sale services across most sectors especially utilities, retail and telecom in the last six months alone. With companies allotting minimum priority for dealing with customer enquiries and complaints, it is not surprising that consumers are unhappy. 56 percent of Indian consumers admit to have ended their relationship with the company because their expectation of customer service was not met. These range from products – small home appliances, water purifiers, electric appliances etc., to services – transport, hospitality, telecommunications to name a few.

The consumers approach an organisation’s helpdesk hoping to resolve their complaints and queries. The automated response system developed to help customers actually makes the situation worse. The customer who is already unhappy over the product’s poor quality expects a service that assures direct personal contact, putting his needs first and making sure no question goes unanswered. What actually happens is quite different. The consumer gets a mechanical response from the voice at the other end of the phone that could easily be mistaken for a robot. Why is this? It is because the focus shifts from the very purpose of the call-centre – customer service – to a ‘process’ similar to “If question ‘x’ is asked, reply with answer ‘a’”. The employees read out the answers or rattle it off by rote in a rapid-fire manner, having no concern for the consumer’s problem. This over-dependence on automated processes developed in the BPO business is proving to be detrimental to personal contact with customers. This has been fuelled by the desire to achieve quantity (number of customer queries replied to) rather than quality (solving the customer’s issue). The scene is not very different in large retail outlets. Here again, the employees at the floor level have a minimal knowledge of the products they sell, and very often resort to a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ attitude to make their work easier. They have no commitment to sell the product, and very often, the customer goes away in disgust.

The common factor in both these cases is a lack of quality-awareness in a customer relationship and need for immediacy in addressing their requirements or problems. The root cause of this is the lack of a sense of ownership of work. Superficiality has crept into every sphere – be it daily life, education, or work ethic. Most people go through the motions of performing daily tasks, studying, or working. They do not care to do any job perfectly. They do not feel pride and ownership in every action, however small or insignificant. This attitude spills over into the all-important sector of customer relations, leading ultimately to loss of business.

The service providers need to train their employees to take ownership of their role and pride in their service. Their intent should be to satisfy and delight every customer. Once this is taken care of, the rest of the training complements and augments their capabilities.

Radel, a small manufacturer of niche products in the consumer electronics sector, has received many accolades from its loyal customers spread across the globe. One such letter puts customer relations into a nutshell: with people like you so devoted to the mission of pleasing “one customer” at a time, I think your Radel will continue to be at the top of the musical world as it is already.

That is the key – pleasing one customer at a time!

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