Is Bad Service Undermining Your Marketing?

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Customer experience?  Not so good.
Customer experience? Not so good.

This article was prompted by a visit to a well-known physician with a large medical practice. Most aspects of the visit were very positive. Subsequently, unpleasant interactions with one of their departments caused them to lose me as a customer. This experience, plus too many others, resulted in this insight: Too often management inadvertently plants seeds for destructive customer service.

Does this sound familiar?

Initially, I had a high level of satisfaction when the intake staff, nurses, and the doctor were all caring and attentive. After my visit I was surprised to receive a bill for the co-pay, since this had been taken care of at the office. I called several times, but the billing manager was not available, so I left messages. When I finally received a call, it was from a rude and aggressive billing department employee.  I explained that I had paid at the time of the visit; she told me “prove it.” I expressed my dissatisfaction with how she was treating me, when I was simply doing my best to help them resolve their error. She hung up on me.

I phoned the office and asked to speak to the physician to complain about the way I was treated by her staff. Instead of a return call from the doctor, the same billing representative called me to apologize (not for her previous tone), but for their billing error, which was now corrected. I began to offer low-key advice about customer service and inquired as to why she had been so aggressive. She cut me off and stated that she is “rude and harsh because that is the best way to collect money.” She added, “This makes me good at my job!” and hung up on me again. I made one final call to the doctor to provide helpful input and give her the chance to win me back as a customer. I never received a return call. Will I go back again? No, I'd rather spend time searching for a new physician.

Have you planted seeds for similar customer disservice?

While this physician and medical personnel exhibited wonderful customer service values, there was a dangerous disconnect in the billing department. The billing employee had no interest in delivering a good customer experience, since she does not associate that with her job performance.

This illustrates how a single department can destroy the entire customer experience, undermine the quality of service provided by the key point of customer contact, and open the door for negative word of mouth.

Despite plenty of research that proves the importance of good customer service and illustrates how damaging bad customer service is, interdepartmental inconsistencies seem prevalent among many companies.

What does this mean for you?

Following are our five recommendations based on our voice of the customer research and numerous customer service assessments. These will help you ensure that dangerous seeds for disservice are not planted in your company:

1. Perform regular employee skill-set assessments. Make sure they are in positions that suit natural skills and personalities. You cannot rewire someone's personality. Some folks have people skills and others never will.

2. Empower qualified employees with the authority to solve problems. Seventy percent of customers who had a problem will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint. The percentage increases to 95% if the complaint is resolved instantly. In addition to the customer retention, rescuing a bad customer experience generates powerful word-of-mouth praise. As easy as it is to lose a customer, winning new customers is incredibly difficult.

3. Carefully consider what behaviors your compensation is rewarding. Your job as management        is to make sure employees value customers above all. Are your metrics for success and compensation consistent with customer centricity, or are they rewarding potentially dangerous behaviors? Per my story, the front office and physicians focused on customer satisfaction as a key metric, while billing only cared about squeezing dollars.

4. Create “soft skills” training. Employees who know the technical aspects of their job must also learn people skills and how to provide excellent customer service. Customers expect an improved experience across every point of contact and department  within your organization.

5. Customer service generates revenue. Instead of thinking about customer service as an expense, it should be considered a revenue generating resource. As John Hunter, executive vice president of QVC points out, “The penalty for not listening to the customer today is a lot steeper than it was in years past; similarly, the penalty for service failures becomes steeper in a social media environment with more impact to your brand.”


Ernan Roman is president of Ernan Roman Direct Marketing Corp. A recognized customer experience innovator, Roman is a Marketing Hall of Fame inductee.

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