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Customer Problem? Pick up the Bleep’n Phone

By on March 4, 2012 in Customer Service with 4 Comments

The telephone isn’t going anywhere and for good reason.

Nothing will ever be able to replace the effectiveness of an actual conversation.

When it comes to solving your customer’s problems, being effective means picking up the phone and talking to your customer. I was just reminded again of how important it is to do this because I was on the customer end of a problem that got worse because of email.

I sent an email to a company I deal with expressing concern over the effectiveness of a program I have with them. My sales rep didn’t respond. Instead, a couple of days later, I got an email from his boss. He acknowledged my concerns but didn’t answer my questions, so I emailed him back. Then he emailed me back. And so on.

Several emails and a week later, what started with me being a happy and loyal customer with a few minor concerns, erupted into me being irritated, frustrated and seriously questioning my entire relationship with this company.

How did it get this bad so fast?

Frankly, its because no one from that company picked up the phone.

Since when did email become an acceptable alternative to proper customer service? It’s not like I requested a confirmation of delivery or price. I sent an email that suggested I didn’t know if I wanted to continue paying for a service they provide because I didn’t think there was value in it. That didn’t warrant a phone call?

Instead, I kept getting emails that came across as defensive and agitated.

And there is the other problem with the way this company handled my problem.

Unless you are as talented as Charles Dickens, the written word has limitations when it comes to expressing sincerity and tone. For example, you reply to a customer email with the opening line, “I’m sorry you feel that way”. What you intend to be a sincere statement can just as easily be interpreted as condescending. It all depends on the mood of the reader. So imagine if your customer had a bad day at work, comes home and sees your email. Your concerned response just became lighter fluid on a fire.

My first response when I get any form of a message from a customer that has a concern or a problem is to pick up the phone and call them. That personal response not only tells a customer that I want to solve their problem but that I consider them important.

It also helps get to the root of the problem faster. I can immediately tell by the tone in their voice, their comments and their response to my call just how serious of an issue this is to them. You get can’t get that type of instant feedback from email.

Email can not address a problem or express an apology the same way  you can through an actual conversation. When it comes to customer service, nothing is better than personal attention.

I am all for putting things in writing.

A good paper trail is essential in business and helps manage expectations if an issue does arise. But your best bet in using email is as a follow-up your telephone call, recapping the conversation (and if necessary your apology) and confirming your actions to resolve the problem.

In my case, one phone call would have likely kept things on the rails.

The owner or even my sales rep, picking up the phone and saying “Heidi, you are one of our valuable customers. You have some concerns so lets address them…” would have gone miles to keep me confident in their commitment to providing me good service.

Now they have miles more work to do in order to regain my confidence and keep my business.

They should have just picked up the phone.

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There Are 4 Brilliant Comments

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  1. scott says:

    Heidi

    This is a great point. I think it applies to more than just customers, but all relationships. Things happen alot faster and more effectively when done directly by phone or in person. The comfort zone of digital communication is a two edged sword. This became clear to me when I redid our company cell phone plan today. The amount of time I actually spend on the phone is ridiculously low – great for my own time management, but an area that needs to have the right balance.

  2. Tim Grubbs says:

    I would agree that a phone call is a priority when dealing with a customer’s issues, and the phone call needs to be timely. Keeping a paper trail on the resolution or next steps can be done via email. This way everything is spelled out for the customer to review.

  3. Tess Wittler says:

    Heidi, you bring to light a basic business concept that technology has caused us to forget. I am sure all of us have stories we could share of how NOT to handle a customer (because we’ve been on the not-so-happy customer end). All I can say is that this little reminder you shared will help more of us understand the value of actual conversation.

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