A few weeks ago I was caught in a tug of war between two large multinational banks — My Bank and my general contractor’s bank, Receiving Bank.
I had written a check to pay my general contractor for a retail buildout. Since it was for a construction job, the check was fairly large. (The landlord was paying for it, but the funds had to go through me. Long story.)
The Receiving Bank had held up clearing the check while it tried to personally confirm its authenticity, and I was dragged into a black hole of unaccountability while I tried to get the issue resolved.
I won’t bore you with the details but, suffice it to say, I had less than a pleasant experience trying to sort the issue out with My Bank and had a valuable customer service lesson reinforced in the process.
The Importance of Systems to Customer Service
In my experience with My Bank is a profound lesson for customer service professionals and customer experience designers everywhere:
The reps I dealt with at My Bank did the typical “customer service stuff” well, and the experience was still a poor one.
- Every person I spoke with was pleasant and customer-focused.
- Every person was well-trained in effective customer service communication.
- Every person personally assisted with the transfer to the next rep in line.
Yet, no matter how nice the reps, it still took seven different people and over and hour and a half to get to the bottom of the issue. And twice, between calls, I was stuck in a labyrinthine phone tree trying to get to the right department.
The inability of the reps to solve my problem was bad enough; the fact that I was routed incorrectly a couple of times made it even worse.
I will readily admit that the situation I presented the bank with was an unusual one, rare enough that it would probably not reasonably be expected to be in a training manual. The challenge was that none of first six people I spoke with were empowered to solve the problem, and more importantly, none but the last rep knew where to send me to get the problem solved.
The first challenge (lack of empowerment) is understandable in an industry like banking, where there is an ever present tension between security and accessibility. The second challenge was less forgivable — that there was no clearly defined path for how to route the issue to someone who was both knowledgeable and empowered.
Some people in the process did fail, but underlying those errors was a more basic systemic failure.
Though I worked with some very nice people during the process, I walked away from the experience thinking this is what happens at big banks. And while I am unlikely to move my account over one incident or for other reasons, the experience was just another in a long list of poor experiences.
In 7 Secret Customer Service Techniques Every Expert Knows, we wrote the following in the chapter entitled Consistency Is the Greatest Wow of All:
“Whether you provide a service or a product, your customers need to know that they will receive the benefits they expect from the experience. Your customers have a baseline of expectations that must be satisfied by each and every interaction with your company. Failure to consistently achieve these baseline expectations can undermine every program you have in place to delight and amaze your customers.
Consistency from our organizations creates predictability for customers. We need to get the basics right time after time.”
You Can Keep Your Room, Maybe
Systems can make or break an experience or, at minimum, cause problems at an individual touchpoint.
I was in Nashville recently for a conference and decided to go in a few days early for some leisure time before the meeting. Since I was outside of the block dates for the meeting, the resort forced me to have two separate reservations — one at the regular rate and one at the block rate.
This situation made it impossible to book online, so I had go through the phone reservation system. On the phone, I was guaranteed by the rep that I could keep the same room and that the experience would be seamless — as if there were just one reservation.
When I arrived, such was not the case. After much wrangling at the check-in desk, I was able to be get an assurance that I would not have to move rooms halfway through my stay. Unfortunately, I was informed that I still had to go down to the reservation desk and physically check out from the first reservation and then check back in under the new reservation.
“There is no way around it,” I was told.
The rep who helped me was nice enough, though definitely in need of some customer service training; nonetheless, the experience was dominated by what the resort’s system was unable to do, not by how the rep handled communicating the inconvenience.
You see, you can have the best people and the best customer service training in the world, if your systems and operations do not support the meeting of customer expectations and the delivery of a desired customer experience, the other aspects of customer service will simply not be enough.
Your service is only as good as your systems.