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SELL THE DIFFERENCE: Establishing your Unique Solution Value

Two contrasting faces of customer service - Apple and the Clydesdale

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 1-Apr-2011

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I was chatting the other day to Andy Gannon, an old colleague of mine who is now the chairman of CGA - the customer experience specialists. The conversation inevitably turned to our respective experiences as consumers. I shared two contrasting experiences with him - linked by a common thread. Even when the underlying problem is the same, how you get treated makes all the difference. Here’s how Apple and the Clydesdale Bank fared...

First, the background: I’ve been a customer of the Clydesdale Bank for years. They deal with both my company and personal accounts. I like to think that I’ve been a pretty good customer of theirs. Over the years, I’ve come to rely on them. And now, because of the ham-fisted and insensitive way in which one incident was handled, I’m wondering whether I can rely on them any more.

Clydesdale Credit Card Renewal Blues

I run a company credit card. Many of the services upon which my business depends are set up as regular monthly payments through the card. It’s convenient and - most importantly - it avoids any interruption to service on my website, internet connectivity, etc. Or so I thought.

I started to get reminders from these suppliers that my card was about to expire. So, not wanting to leave matters to the last minute, I chased the Clydesdale. The person I spoke to said that she was sure it was in hand, and that I should not be concerned. A week passed, and still no replacement card.

So I called again. I was told that there was nothing to worry about. They were highly confident the card was on its way to me. So another week passed. By now, I was getting pretty fed up with the increasingly frequent reminders from my suppliers that I needed to update my details. Still no card. So I called the card issuer directly.

I explained the problem. I explained that my business depended on continuity of payments. I was told that there was nothing to be concerned about, by somebody who clearly had no idea as to why I should have an issue with the situation. So I asked to be escalated to a supervisor. And then what had already been a bad customer experience descended to dreadful.

Irene, the supervisor, after being consistently defensive about their failure to deliver the card, then said something that made my jaw drop. I had clearly explained why it was important that I updated my payment arrangements. I explained that because I was travelling on business, leaving until the last minute wouldn’t do. And then Irene dropped the bombshell.

“You know that we’re not legally obliged to replace your card until the old one has expired” she told me. Legally obliged? I had explained how important this was to my business. I had explained how much inconvenience they had already put me to. I explained how unhappy I was that no-one appeared to want to own the problem. So Irene hit me with “not legally obliged”.

She was supposed to supervise, but was no more empowered than her frontline workers. All she was empowered to do was to trot out a defensive company line. Badly. It's now April the 1st. The card has expired. Who's feeling foolish?

I think you can imagine what this one incident - and particularly how badly it was handled - has done for my relationship with the bank. If they can’t empower their frontline employees to take ownership - and if they can’t see things from my perspective - what does that say for their attitude to me as a customer? I guess they will find out soon enough.

Apple Make a Good Brand Even Better

I’ve developed an increasing admiration for Apple as a brand. I love their design, and the simplicity with which all of their stuff “just works”. I started with an iPhone, bought a MacBook, and as soon as I could, placed an order for an iPad2. Using my soon-to-expire Clydesdale Credit Card. For delivery in April.

So I phoned up the Apple helpline. I quickly got through to Roy at the Apple Online store. I explained the problem, and he pulled up my details. He checked my payment details. Everything looked to be in order. But he didn’t leave it at that. Roy put a reminder on his file to monitor my order. He assured me that he’d deal with any difficulties. He even gave me a direct dial number so I could avoid the switchboard if I wanted to follow up.

Roy sounded empowered. And he sounded like he cared. His behaviour reinforced all the good feelings I already had about the Apple brand.

Irene, I think you could learn something from Roy. But perhaps more important, Irene’s managers could learn a lot from Roy’s company. You need to really believe in customer service, not just talk about it. And you need to hire smart people, and empower them to truly serve the customer.

I’ll leave you with a final thought: have you listened-in recently to how your employees treat your customers when they phone in with a query or a complaint? Have you hired and coached them for (the right sort of) attitude? And have you put systems and processes in place that truly empower them?

Topics: B2B Marketing