Customer Service needs Global Awareness

by Jeff Wiener on November 15, 2012

When Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Eastern seaboard late last month it once again demonstrated the indomitable nature of the human spirit, with communities rallying to help those hit hardest by the maelstrom. In fact, seeing how people were able to come together amidst that terrible tragedy reminded me of the inherent goodness in all most of us.

But while Sandy was able to demonstrate the best in us, it was also a forum for some of the worst human behaviour as well, with looters, scammers, and those looking to profit off the suffering of others emerging from the gutters to prey on the victims of the disaster.

Some of the most discouraging stories, however, come from the business sector, as while disastrous times offer the corporate world a chance to make a difference in the lives of their customers, far too often those hardest hit by natural disasters like Sandy suddenly find themselves tied down in red tape and stringent corporate policies as well.

So as I wrap up my series on customer service, if your company operates across continents and countries, incorporating global awareness into your customer service policies is absolutely critical in order to understand how to effectively serve your customers varying needs.

I came across a story recently that truly highlights the need not only for global awareness but a little corporate compassion when dealing with customers who might be coping with the complete and utter devastation of their lives.

Having had their dream vacation cottage already burn to the ground, one New Jersey family prepared to leave their primary residence, their safety threatened by a nearby broken gas main. While part of the family’s annual routine, this time it was part of a prepared evacuation plan to phone and cut off the cable, but when contacting the cable provider—no surprise it was Comcast—the family was told that it must return the cable box and other accessories or be charged for them. “We’re very sorry, but the price of the equipment will be charged to your account if you’re unable to return it”, was the line the family was given.

Granted I’m a little confused why the family would bother with cable amidst such a disaster, but nevertheless here we have long time Comcast customers who stood to lose everything they held dear, being told in the midst of the fire and floods that despite the devastation it was Comcast’s policy that customers needed to return unused equipment…company policy, no exceptions.

Already known for their deplorable customer service, Comcast truly should be an object lesson for all businesses about how not to treat your customers. As one who prides himself on offering the best customer service possible, one of my golden rules is that there are no company policies written in stone. Sure we have policies to guide our sales and service staff in handling complaints, such things assist in maintaining consistency in our service. But as the old saying goes, there are exceptions to every rule.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of your customer service the first thing to realize is that your business doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but is part of this complex, multi-faceted process we call life. If you operate across countries, continents, or around the world, it pays to know what’s happening in those regions and to educate your staff on how best to respond. You might be surprised how far a little corporate empathy will go.

Building on that, it’s important to remember that if staff are connecting with customers in disaster areas, reading a prepared script just won’t cut it. Customers might be scared, perhaps even traumatized, and they often need the assistance of a human being, not a scripted robot-sounding agent on the other end.

Finally, as I already mentioned, be flexible. Customer service policies are useful, no question, but if your staff doesn’t have licence to move beyond those policies and make judgment calls, your customer service will suffer, and clients will look elsewhere for the help they need.

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