By Carla Reed
verse to accompany this –
to “Where have all the Flowers gone?”)
Where has all
the Service gone?
Gone to outsource, everyone...
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?
Where have all the Customers gone?
Gone ballistic, every one!!
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?
Recent presidential debates included predictable topics.
More relevant than political rhetoric is voter perception
of what this means to them. The cost of a gallon of milk,
a gallon of gasoline, or a pack of cigarettes will have more
impact than the war with Iraq and esoteric issues. Recognizing
this, Kerry aligned himself with the American worker, bewailing
lost jobs and promising legislation to penalize companies
that outsource. Laudable sentiments. Dramatic, when translated
by press coverage.
The reality is that controls in support of environmental
issues, regulation and legislation have created a situation
where it is economically unviable to manufacture consumer
goods in many geographies. Emerging economies, less concerned
with the longer term impact of pollutants than the immediate
gratification of full stomachs and vodka glasses, are reaping
the benefits of social conscience and sustainability policies.
More legislation and control is not the answer – this
has always proved to be a double edged sword. Automotive,
textile and other industries that imposed embargoes, penalties
and trade restrictions bear testimony to this.
Automation and technology challenge rules and create disruption.
The industrial revolution changed the demographics of the
world – forever. Workers were drawn from their agrarian
base to growing cities by the promise of higher wages, shorter
hours and enhanced lifestyle. Waves of technology crashed
through the 1900s leaving in their wake further changes.
Men moved from smoke stack industries to white-collar positions.
Armies of women joined the workforce, initially as hand maidens
to the men in suits, evolving to corner offices of their
own, as the personal assistant changed into digital form.
In the unwired world of today, the immediacy of the Internet
has transcended geographical boundaries. The physical becomes
irrelevant. Activities taking place in Beijing that result
in electronics for European markets are no more disruptive
than the economic revolution that enabled creation of uniform
products anywhere in the world.
Of greater concern is the fact that the most intangible
of corporate assets – customer satisfaction – is
now being outsourced. In almost frenzied fashion, major corporations – who
should know better – are placing their customers, the
source of their income, in the hands of the uncaring.
Take for example the consumer electronics industry. Symbiotic
relationships between manufacturers and retailers are reinforced
by sales and margin growth. Manufacturers support their products
with incentives, discounts and rebates. Retailers provide
the point of purchase, to include zero percent financing,
enabling consumers to take home the latest gizmo and gadget
immediately. Another revenue generator is the ‘extended
warranty’. Sales personnel at specialty retailers urge
the innocent to purchase these, in many cases at exorbitant
cost. Yes, the product has a warranty, but of course this
is limited, and the customer would be well served to protect
this new investment.
This in itself should be a warning! Where is the
manufacturer in this picture? What happened to the life
time value of
the customer? And whose product is it anyway?? After-sales
service is increasingly part of the value add – product
lifecycle does not end at the retail check-out. Product performance
as promised challenges the future of the manufacturer/consumer
relationship. Brand loyalty is hard won – product differentiation
is in many cases based on perception. This is one remaining
area where manufacturers can impact true future demand. But
for some reason, once the product moves into the retail channel,
most manufacturers lose control. When faced with a problem,
the consumer is alone! The retailer abdicates responsibility.
The product is still under the manufacturer’s warranty
(call a toll free number). Or, more commonly, this has just
expired. Yes, you purchased the extended warranty, but this
has been outsourced. You need to call a toll free number.
The agony begins. A recording instructs you to select from
multiple options. By the end of this first message you have
forgotten what they were! More canned music, followed by
more choices. If you are really tenacious, you are finally
connected with a living being. From the heavy accent it is
apparent that ‘Bert’ or ‘Nancy’ is
more likely to go home to an apartment in Mumbai than Memphis.
Cost cutting is at epidemic levels and the Holy Grail of
the customer experience – customer support – is
now being outsourced to the lowest bidder. Contracts are
negotiated based on hourly rates for call handling. Technicians
and so-called support personnel are trained based on canned
scripts and English language idiom, ignoring the
key ingredient – customer
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Forward thinking
retailers like Nordstrom have empowered their personnel to ‘do
whatever it takes’ to ensure true customer satisfaction.
No matter where or when the product was purchased, issues
are resolved with a smile. The ambiance, the piano player
and the wonderful consumer experience more than compensate
for a potentially higher price than at the alternative ‘low
price leaders’. Service industries have also embraced
that philosophy – Ritz Carlton personnel treat each
guest like a celebrity – hospitality takes on a new
meaning. Supermarkets are recognizing the value of customer
loyalty programs. And even the desk-top ‘shop and ship’,
a potentially clinical process, has many opportunities.
Technology enablers are more common with on-line retailers – software
programs recognize repeat buyers, personalizing the purchasing
experience. Suggestions are made with regard to products
that might appeal, based on purchase history. Accessories
are recommended to accompany new selections, the whole interactive
experience creating an illusion of intimacy. And even those
companies that have chosen to outsource the ‘after
sales service’ element can create a satisfying experience
through the use of technology – number and voice recognition
in combination with software programs, scheduled call routing,
and other tools that smooth the bumps. But technology is
only an enabler – the human element is the critical
factor. Best Practice at the process level should be identified
and consistently applied. Problem resolution should be standardized
through ‘hands-on’ experience, achieved during
support analyst training through:
- Role playing
- Reviewing and analysing ‘real time’ and
recorded problem resolution by competent analysts
desk’ experience, supported by mentoring program
that support a consistent process, prompts, links, etc.
Who knows – maybe technology will once again change
the rules and enable the creation of consistent and high
quality customer service – no matter who or where the
ChainLink Research, Inc.