February 22, 2011

"Customer Service: Competitive Advantage" - Article by Sanjay Anandaram

CUSTOMER SERVICE: COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE
Last Friday morning, I was again painfully reminded of the importance of quality customer care. The WiFi router at home started misbehaving. The internet, which for many of us, is as important as sadak, bijli and paani was suddenly inaccessible. I called customer service of the country’s largest telecom service provider and was treated to some great signature music composed by India’s most well known music composer. I was then informed by a woman- automated voice of course – what my bill amount was and then after pressing a series of buttons was again informed what my bill amount was. I was then told that if I wished to speak to a human I would be charged all of 50 paise. I punched the button signaling my acceptance. I was then again treated to some more great signature music which was interrupted by a human voice. Finally. Very politely, the voice took down my complaint (I mentioned that I suspected that the router itself was malfunctioning), verified my details, the router details, and then said that the problem would be resolved by 2pm that day. A complaint number was given to me over the phone as well as sent as text to my cell phone.

After the few hours and no resolution, I called again. Went through the whole song and phone punching sequence (including being told what my bill amount was etc) and was again told, again politely, that the problem would be resolved by 7pm evening that day. I again told the voice that I believed that the router was defective since the phone line connected to it was fine.

7pm and still no resolution. I was upset and angry. I called again and yes, went through the whole song and dance (at this point, the phone punching sequence was beginning to resemble one!) of reaching a human agent. I explained that the router probably needed replacement and that someone had to physically come to my place to do so. I was however happily informed by the agent that my problem had been resolved as per their “system”. I again explained the situation at my end – that nothing had been resolved. I asked to speak to a manager. I was given another number, apparently one that reached higher ups responsible for customer care. I called and learnt – automated voice again - that that the office was open only Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm!

Feeling exasperated, I made a few phone calls the following morning and reached my phone company’s service executive one who serviced homes in my part of the city. He was very professional and polite. He told me that he thought my problem had been resolved since he had attended to a router problem in the same building (he didn’t quite remember the apartment number) the previous evening! I explained that my problem unfortunately persisted. He was at my place in under 30min and after a few minutes of tinkering around realized that the router needed replacement. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a replacement router handy. The 4-5 routers in his bag were all defective, he said. He called his manager who too arrived promptly. I was told that my router was an old model and that they didn’t carry it anymore. Could I get a replacement anyway? That required approval of the folks in another department. A few phone calls were made. Finally, the manager took out another router (newer model, different make, but not new) from inside the bag of “defective” routers and installed it. It worked.

They left with my defective router. I didn’t sign any customer service request forms or reports. I didn’t pay any money. I was happy. I didn’t hear back from the phone company either – they too were apparently happy. Would they have been happy to know the details? Is there a mechanism to track customer experiences from the “moment of truth” and deliver it to the decision makers?

Surely, there must be better ways to deliver customer service? In our country, delivering high quality customer service can be an immense competitive differentiator. Look around and one sees the enormous gaps in service in all sectors, even excluding government departments! Surely, there’s great opportunity here?

What do you think?

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings close to two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.