Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Consumer Insight #1 : What are your customer's expectations ?

I just put down my telephone after some heated exchange with my traveling agent. The reason as always about refunds. I canceled my air tickets a couple of weeks back and after a dozen phone calls I still wonder about the possibility of getting my refunds in the near future .

Much has been written on customer service . Researches, articles, books and what not. But still we see the same pathetic management of customer service.

Last week, while visiting my new generation bank which boasts about being the most tech- advanced bank, I had to wait for 45 minutes for getting a Demand Draft. That too in a bank which have an automated queue handling system. The manager was helpless and surprisingly the bank does not have a formal complaint's handling mechanism. I was amused to see that the link for registering complaints in the bank's website does not work !!!!! Hum Haina ???

So is it about meeting expectations or managing expectations ?

Today's Economic Times ' Brand equity has a great piece written by Ms Janelle Barlow titled " Take your customer's complaints seriously ". She is the author of a very relevant book " Complaint is a gift ".

Read the article here : Take your customer complaints seriously

I strongly believe that a firm's customer service quality will reveal only when there is a complaint.How a company handles the complaint is the true determinant of its customer service quality.

Coming back to my experience with my traveling agent, I had certain expectations regarding the service to be provided by the agent. The service provider was not able to understand those expectations. The company may have systems and processes which can delay the refund, but as a consumer, I am totally unaware of what happens inside the company.

The entire issue would not have happened if the service provider gave me the information about possible delay at the point of cancellation. But that did not happen. So marketers should learn to be truthful to the customers while setting expectations.

Its common sense that no marketer can satisfy all the expectations of the customers. But what he can do is to try and manage those expectations.

In the case of the bank , it had built a series of expectation in the consumers through high profile celebrity endorsements and ads. Then at the consumer touch-points it fails miserably . For example the 'service request receipt ' generated by the machine sets the expectation by giving the time taken to attend my request. The time given to me was 90 seconds. Then everything went offtrack .
Marketers often fail to practice the wisdom of Understate and Overdeliver. Most of the time you bring in the customer promising him many things that you are not able to deliver.

Seth Godin has written a good post here : Seth on customer expectations

For the consumer : Never pay for your service in advance. If I hadn't paid my tour operator in advance, things could have been much different. He would have made calls to me and I would have been the king. So if there is an option for taking the service on credit, do it. Because marketers have a bad habit of forgetting their customers after being fully paid.

Please share your views and experiences on the customer service you have encountered.