On Saturday afternoon at about 2pm, I sent through an email to the customer service inbox of a large national retailer. I had some concerns, and I wanted to express them, and also make some suggestions on how they could be rectified.
A cheery auto-responder arrived minutes later – as expected – but the phrasing interested me. “Please hold tight whilst one of our super heroes gets to your ticket, we will be in touch shortly,” it proclaimed. I was intrigued – comma splice notwithstanding, it gave the impression that I would get a response over the weekend, which I was fairly certain wouldn’t happen.
Today, however, I received further “communication” – in the form of two identical emails, and two identical text messages, thanking me for contacting their call centre – which I had never done – and assuring me that my service request would be “actioned accordingly”.
So what’s the problem?
Well, they’ve made contact, but that’s not the the same as customer service. Customer service would involve, at the very least, sending a reply that shows that first, they have heard my concerns, and second, they are doing something about it.
Their first message creates an impression of a prompt reply, which they don’t live up to. Clearly it was not crafted with weekend lags in mind, and I have yet to hear from one of their “super heroes”.
There is some indication that a human being has read my message, because they substituted my use of the word “bleach” – generic – with the word “Jik” – a brand name. But the rest is all boilerplate stuff, essentially saying, “We got your message, thanks.”
Five messages and more than 48 hours later, nothing has actually happened, except that they are seen to be communicating with me.
And this is not limited to customer service centres – you see it on social media accounts all the time. There’s a dehumanising that takes place in the devising of boilerplate responses to customer complaints, and when all else fails, and customers grow frustrated, the last resort is, “We’ll escalate it,” a phrase that probably demands a blogpost all its own.
I fully understand the need to have boilerplate responses to common questions or complaints, but they need to be written and phrased with some warmth and humanity. It’s also essential that they are adjustable – that they can be adapted to slight variations in people’s experience.
But that requires hiring people to do customer service – not just be call centre agents or community managers who are coached to trot out well-worn phrases and badly written scripts. It requires people with real knowledge of your brand, your products and your services, who can answer what’s in front of them with sincerity, authenticity, knowledge, and the willingness to provide actual customer service, instead of just playing lip service to it.
Contact and communication are not the same thing – and contact alone can never be a substitute for treating your clients as if they matter to you.