Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sweet Talk is not a substitute for Good Customer Service.

A Layman’s View

High on Promise but Low on Delivery. 

This sentence aptly encapsulates my recent experiences with customer service.

In the current scenario, it appears that Customer Service comprises two processes. First, we have the white-collar Customer Care Representatives who are all sweet talk (in many cases this process may be outsourced). Then, we have the blue-collar “technicians” who just do not deliver satisfactory service on the ground.

Sweet Talk is not a substitute for good Customer Service.

The customer service representatives make lofty assurances and raise expectations in you, but you are in for a big disappointment when the operations or technical service personnel do not meet those high expectations and you actually receive unsatisfactory or sub-standard service.

I will give you a few recent examples of High on Promise but Low on Delivery customer service from my personal experience.

Let me start with a recent experience of unsatisfactory customer service from a bank and then I will give you other examples also.

I had a very high opinion of ICICI Bank for many years until a recent rather upsetting experience of indifferent, insensitive and unresponsive customer service changed my impression of ICICI Bank.

More than two months ago, my daughter’s ICICI Bank Debit Card was stolen from the Ladies locker room of her gym. As she reached home from the gym, she started receiving mobile alert SMS regarding some purchases made on her debit card. She checked her purse and found her debit card missing.

She immediately called up ICICI Bank 24 Hour Customer Care Centre and informed them about the theft of the debit card and fraudulent use of the debit card as intimated by the SMS mobile alert. I must say that the customer service representative acted promptly and efficiently and did three things: he blocked the debit card, he recorded the complaint regarding fraudulent withdrawal by misuse of the debit card (which he could see on his computer) and initiated a request for reissue of a new card. 

So far so good, we were quite happy with the sweet talk and his assurances of prompt action.

I wondered how a thief could misuse the debit card, which has the signature of the holder on the reverse. Once you present your debit card to the merchant, he is supposed to swipe it, print out two copies of the chargeslip and then give you the charge-slips which you must verify for correctness and affix your signature. Then, he is required to match your signature with the one on the reverse of the debit card. Only after verifying that the two signatures match is he to process the transaction further. If the signature on the charge-slip does not match the signature on the debit card, the merchant must stop the transaction and alert the bank immediately.

Evidently, it appears that the proper procedure was not followed in this case. This is a lapse on the part of the merchant and hence the merchant who permitted the fraudulent purchase by misuse of the debit card is liable to pay up and the amount must be refunded to the customer. Surely ICICI Bank can examine the merchant’s charge slip, compare the signatures, and in case they do not match, then recover the money from the merchant for negligence and refund the money to the customer. Also, I understand that these debit cards are insured (zero liability protection) to cover purchases made on lost or stolen cards.

Over two months have passed. All the required information and documents have been submitted to ICICI Bank. Whenever we enquire about the progress of the case, the customer care representatives seem clueless and ask the same questions again and again and sweetly assure us that the matter will be settled soon. And every time there is a new sweet-talking customer service representative who makes us answer the same queries repeatedly. However, sadly, nothing is moving on the ground and we are still at square one. Whether this is due to sheer incompetence or is it a ploy to confuse and wear out the customer, I do not know.

Personal visits to the bank yielded no results as there they told my daughter to call up customer care. Even for reissue of the debit card, she was made to run from pillar to post and it took more than one month for the card to arrive which was not delivered at our address but she was asked to collect it from the bank. (Apparently, the courier could not find our address, though we regularly receive all correspondence from ICICI Bank there for so many years).

Escalation of the grievance to the nodal officer and above, as per the grievance redressal procedure on ICICI Bank website, bore no fruit, and nothing happened, except a few more sweet talking calls from the call centre asking the same questions again and again. It looks like everything was going round and round in a circle. Every time they promise the speedy resolution of the matter, but until today they have not delivered on their promises.

This High on Promise but Zero on Delivery customer service strategy puts the customer in a spin so maybe the customer feels helpless and hapless and gets fed up of banging her head against the wall and finally gives up pursuing the matter. That is exactly what my daughter feels – she is so fed up that she has thrown up her hands in despair and given up pursuing the issue. ICICI Bank has won.

As far as I am concerned, from this episode I have derived an impression that ICICI Bank Debit Cards are not adequately secure and I wonder whether one’s money is safe in ICICI Bank.

In contrast, it is not easy to misuse a State Bank of India Debit Card, because here, in addition to signing the charge slip, you are required to enter your secret PIN number when making a purchase. Thus, I feel the SBI Cards are more secure – it may not be possible for a thief to make a purchase on a stolen SBI debit card since he would not know your secret PIN number.

So, my daughter, for whom I had so proudly opened a “kiddies” account long back in ICICI Bank, has decided to bear the losses and forget about the matter, close her ICICI Bank account and shift to some other nationalised bank where she feels her money will be more secure. I too, who had a very high opinion of ICICI Bank, am wondering why the organisational behaviour towards the customer is so indifferent, leading to such inept customer service.

In my opinion, Poor Customer Service adversely affects the reputation of an organization. It appears that some organizations are not bothered about their reputation and take their customers for granted. Reputation declines when experience of an organization falls short of expectations and one of the key factors that can damage the reputation of an organization is poor customer service.

The value of reputation is frequently under-estimated because it is rarely measured. Reputation is a vital asset of an organization, particularly is the organization is a business enterprise. Whether personal or organizational, once reputation goes down, it is most difficult to restore. Reputations take years to build, but a moment to destroy. No wonder that Warren Buffet uttered these famous words: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it and if you understand this you will do things differently”

Many organizations assume that customers buy products. I feel that customers buy relationships. Acquiring a new customer is more difficult and expensive than retaining a happy and satisfied customer. Good relationships with a customer will not only get you repeat business but also bring in new customers as a result of the good word spread around by your happy and satisfied customers which will also enhance the organization’s spoken reputation. I, therefore, feel that organizations need to spruce up their organizational behaviour to emphasize a customer-responsive culture and deliver to their customers what they promise.

I feel the leitmotif of customer relationship management should be “High on Promise and High on Delivery or to put it simply Deliver what you Promise and organizational behaviour must be tailored accordingly to meet this objective and enhance the organization’s reputation.

To be continued …

© vikram karve., all rights reserved.


Swetha S said...

How true sir! Hope organizations take note of this so that they do not ruin their reputation...

Vikram Waman Karve said...

@ Swetha - Your observation is correct - organizations must take note, but sadly they have become complacent and do not do so until it is too late.

ICICI Bank Care said...

Hi Vikram,

We have made a note of your email ID. Our executive will get in touch with you soon inorder to resolve your issue.

ICICI Bank Customer Service Team.

Vikram Waman Karve said...

@ ICICI Bank Care - Thank you, I shall await your call.

Anonymous said...

First of all customer service is something that has been neglected for long in our country.For that matter you can see it even at our nationalized banks.
Well me coming from a customer service background, I would just like to tell you.... that every customer wants to be listened to and then understood and finally a solution.
Now being in this field for 8 yrs and with international MNC's US and UK. Customer is treated as the king and god for their businesses abroad.
At times customer are so curt and sarcastic i have colleagues who have cried.
Its about the company you represent that you would do the best.
Hope people in India start Demanding Respect and Value.

Vikram Waman Karve said...

Hi Anjali,
Thanks for your comment. Yes, as you say, it is high time customers too start demanding respect and value.
If customers keep lumping it then they will keep treating customers like dirt, like it is happening in India now.
Your comment has added value to my blog in view of your experience in the field.