The answer is a most emphatic NO! Right now it is my internet service provider that is guilty of poor customer service. Before that it was a pizza outlet. To be fair, there was some kind of service resolution – the wrong order was replaced (though it meant more calls and waiting until the next afternoon for the correct order to be delivered).

My complaint is that these companies spend huge sums on advertising but the bare minimum on training their staff in essential customer service skills.

  1. What annoys me the most is that none of the staff know how to listen. It’s only at the level of area manager and above do I find staff who actually listen. At the lower levels, the staff seem to be trained to follow a fixed script and to not deviate from it at any cost. Hence, when I called to complain that I had been sent the wrong pizza order, the young woman’s response was, “What is your telephone number?”!! It’s only when I furiously (I was hungry and angry) asked what my telephone number had to do with a wrong order, did she change her response to something more intelligent and unscripted.
  2. Why do call centre staff mumble when talking on the phone? I’ve noticed that when overseas customers make the same complaint, companies here are quick to dismiss it as racial prejudice. However, I am an Indian and if I cannot understand what call centre staff say over the telephone, the problem has to be with the service agent and not the customer.
  3. Be it inbound or outbound calls, the staff do not clearly introduce themselves – name or company. In one government owned, telephone company, the call centre staff were all named after the late Michael Jackson’s children! And no, I don’t have a sense of humour.
  4. Going back to my internet service provider, the area manager had recorded my complaint. After that I got call after call asking me to repeat my complaint. When asked why, I was told the complaint had not been clearly recorded.
  5. The staff have no problem-solving skills. Because they do not listen/know how to listen, customer service staff (front office or call centre) are unable to take decisions and provide solutions. Therefore, the complaint has to be ‘escalated’ up the organizational pyramid until the customer reaches a senior enough manager who can do both.

What annoys me is that these are companies that spend lavishly on marketing. Which is fine. Only, the marketing has to be backed up by good customer service. I wonder if India, Inc is aware that their businesses lose nearly $2.5 billion annually because of poor customer service. For more statistics read the article, India loses Rs 11,640-cr a year on poor customer service: study published by the Business-Standard in August 2009.

Good customer service requires well trained staff. Here training providers are as much responsible as companies for the inadequate training being offered. All too often I come across training material that promises much in its objectives, but the content fails to cover the basics of customer service. There is much theory and little practical training. (I suppose, this approach to learning spills over from our education system which values theoretical knowledge over practical application.) As I advised the staff at the internet service outlet, “What you expect as a customer, do that for your customers.”

Companies meanwhile, are unwilling to invest in the time, effort, and expense required to develop quality training material. But then if the cost of poor customer service is Rs. 11,640 crore per annum, it is time for companies rethink their training budgets and their approach to training.

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Some time ago, I came across reviews of a book, Transfer of Training by Mary Broad and John Newstrom.  Their thesis is that what the manager does before training, what the trainer does before training and what the manager does after training are the three most powerful factors influencing the transfer of training.  I couldn’t agree more.  Too often, particularly in soft skills training, the focus is on what is done during the session and the end of the day feedback.  But this limits training effectiveness.  There is little incentive for the trainees to apply the learning back in the workplace.  The inputs provided to the trainer before the session is inadequate.

My own experience confirms Broad and Newstrom’s thesis.  One of the most effective training programmes I have conducted is where the operations manager requested for the training.  The inputs I got were specific, allowing me to design a module on skills that the trainees required in their daily work. In his feedback, the manager stated that change could be seen from day one.

Page 3 of The Hindu, 14 Jan. 2009, features a news story on student centered learning.  Several school and college teachers in Chennai had attended a workshop on the subject.  One of the teachers, at the workhsop, shared the negative response she had from students when she had tried to make her classes student centered.  The students apparently preferred the traditional, teacher centric, passive learning style. 

Why did the students resist active learning?  What benefits did they perceive in passive learning?  What were the ‘drawbacks’ of active learning?