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Throw out customer service.

May 7, 2009

Hotel A ($200 per night)

  • Has a website.
  • No internet reservation but phone reservation is easy and prompt.
  • Cannot negotiate room type. You get what you get.
  • Near famous landmark. Easy to find.
  • Limited parking, have to compete.
  • Have to wait to check in. Housekeeping not always ready.
  • Charges $10 for extra key card.
  • Wi-fi at $20 an hour.
  • Staff courteous but makes no unsolicited offer to help.
  • No free newspaper.

Hotel B ($230 per night)

  • Has a website.
  • Accepts internet reservation and allows choice of room type.
  • Near famous landmark. Easy to find.
  • Special parking area for staying guests
  • Staff remembers your last stay (via system help) and your preferences.
  • Gives free F&B reward if you have to wait to check in.
  • 2 key cards at no extra charge.
  • Free 30 mins of wi-fi every day.
  • Staff makes offers to help rather than waits for you to ask.
  • Free newspaper.
  • A thank-you email after you’ve checked out.

Assuming they both offer the same quality of room, which hotel would you stay in?

I choose B because it promises a far better customer experience. Its worth spending an extra $30 a night for.

When I say throw out customer service, I’m saying that people should ditch that outdated model and replace it with customer experience management. But aren’t they the same? No, they’re not. In this region, the term customer service is often meant to be the front desk, the phone operator, the restaurant waiters, and the concierge/help desk. Most businesses don’t classify the parking attendant, the billing department, security, the cook, housekeeping as part of customer service.

The software, phone service and insurance industry is worse. Customer service = call center, period. They can boast award winning call centers while epicly failing clients with one-sided business policies.

You see, if you have a billing dispute and write in, you may receive curt, unfriendly-sounding responses from their finance department and that’s okay they say, because finance is not responsible for customer service. Sometimes even if they were wrong and you get your money back, they do not apologize but that’s okay, because they’re not responsible for customer service.

Such attitudes break down under the customer experience model because no one is exempt from it.

The concept itself is simple. You basically put yourself in the customer’s shoes. How does it feel like to buy from you? Typically it begins with a search for your type of product. The customer then locates you on the map, makes contact and negotiates with you, buys from you, and then parts with you when they are done. Sometimes a glitch happens and they stay a while to sort things out, which can bring your backroom operations (like finance) into the picture.

Customer experience management treats business delivery as a long chain of events that form an overall experience. Arguably, an experience is what a customer buys from you, not so much a product. (Someone said that if someone buys a drill, its not the drill that they want. They want a hole.) Everyone who owns their link in the chain, e.g. the part about being easily found, is responsible for not screwing up his/her part. And whether the chain is broken or not will be determined by the customer, not the department manager.

This way, everyone is empowered to provide an experience and the right people – even finance executives – are held accountable for customer complaints. If a CEO acts “lansi” towards a customer, he too can be held accountable under the CE charter if there are complaints.

So why aren’t  companies moving to the customer experience model? Because it costs too much money to change, the rot has set in too deep, or they’re confident customers here have been “well-trained” to accept bad service as normal.

Its great news for new companies that plan to come in and steal unhappy customers from these tottering giants, simply by making customers feel better.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2009 11:51 am

    That’s why this economy crisis has somehow, started a new trend due to the smaller and more customer-oriented businesses. 🙂 which is good for us.

    but this doesn’t exist when the ‘control’ is being held by someone up there (monopoly). and it seems like western countries have more customer-oriented businesses than asian countries.

    Yeah, consumer rights watchdogs are stronger in the west because (and I hate to say this) the commitment to right wrongs among members of the public is stronger. Monopolies … I think their days numbered because of technology-induced alternatives. Even the most unassailable of all businesses – crude oil – is being assailed by alternative energy. I’ve no doubt its a matter of time before someone invents a way to provide internet services the way we can receive AM radio (no telcos in between), or generate one’s own power without having to go to the utility co.

  2. May 7, 2009 12:29 pm

    Long time ago when we engineers were more like multi-skilled operatives, we were told that whenever we deal with customers we are representing the company and it’s the customer who pays our wages. And so we treated customers like good friends. We discussed and we solved ‘their’ problems.

    Now that we have grown big all of us compartmentalized, I often see a lot of footballing around often leaving only technicians to deal with our ‘paymasters’. They don’t get to us directly. Some really frustrated ones go direct to the top. So, who is to blame?

    BTW, I’d also choose hotel B. It’s like paying $1 for the parking than risk $30 for the compound.

    I think its very possible for large companies to provide service in a way that doesn’t piss off its customers. Usually the problem stems from two places – heirarchy and losing sight of the fundamentals. Basically someone forgot to keep an eye on things as he grew fat. The responsibility for that would lie squarely on the CEO’s shoulders.

  3. May 7, 2009 7:09 pm

    Another highlight is that the same customer service personnel treat different customers differently. Eg in a hotels industry, the reception in the front desk and the FB staffs normally treat foreigner guests more polite and friendly compared to the way they treat local guests.
    Sometimes when a company has expand and grown with steady customers they tend to neglect the bigger number of smaller customers that generate them smaller portion of revenue. The attention is shifted to focus on the smaller number of customers but generate bigger revenue for them. Take care of the 20% of the customers that generate 80% of their revenue, that kind of concept.

    Yeah, that happens in airlines too, even though the “priviledged” pay the same airfare as everyone. I don’t think there’s any way to describe that apart from unwarranted discrimination, which by the way is illegal in some countries. If a black person gives 5-star service to a white guest and 1-star service to other black guests, I’d bet its becuz he hates himself for being black. So strong is the self-loathing that he wants nothing to do with his own kind. I feel sorry for such unfortunate souls.

  4. May 7, 2009 9:13 pm

    holy shit …where the fck is this place ? U.S ?

    my laptop is connected to their hotel internet the whole day …
    they charge for this shit ?

    God i have to go and check now

    Hahaha, gotcha! 😀

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