April 26, 2006

Form Lacks Function

Twenty-nine minutes ago, I was convinced to abandon my traditional telephone service and sign up for a voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) telephone service. Although I have yet use this new service, or even receive any of the hardware necessary to activate it, I already have a strong opinion of what is to come.

The product pitch was great. There is a website full of content with lots of answers and interactive gadgetry driving home the details of all the features and benefits - all included as added value within the monthly service fee that is a fraction of the cost of a traditional telephone line, of course. Perfect! Where's that dotted line?

I set up a new account online. I logged in. I had a problem. I looked through the FAQs. I called. I waited. I talked to four different people, one of them twice, in three separate countries. The only consistent and reliable attribute was apathy. Forty minutes later, a customer service rep check a box in his computer and the issue was resolved.

Alas, there is a point to this long-winded story beyond blowing off steam about a frustrating experience. An entire organization needs to portray the same image through and through. Ads can be fun and engaging. A website can be interesting and poignant. But when the human representation is miserable, any hope for a brilliant customer experience is over. Remember that Abraham Lincoln speech about the house divided against itself? Well, this company is due for a corporate civil war.

It does not matter how remarkable and cutting edge a company's product is if it is not remarkable and cutting edge all the way through. Now, the product will have to be twice as remarkable and cutting edge to keep me around as a customer, and that will cost them a lot more time and money than offering up some customer relationship training to employees right from the start. Your employees want to help your customers (or at least, they should want to), so invest in the training and tools to make it possible. You wind up looking like a visionary customer service genius. Your employees are capable and confident. Your customers are satisfied.