Customer service. The holy grail. The desire to maintain a level of service that at least maintains consistency of approach and ideally builds and locks in continued loyalty and the opportunity to keep customers, get them to spend more and maybe… just maybe… even refer other people they know into your flock of would be buyers.
But amid the continual improvement programmes, beyond the service charters, the hours of training, monitoring, the depth of management systems and all else that interfaces with the paying client… there lies a deadly assassin that knows no bounds in undoing all that amazing work in keeping customers happy.
It’s called….. *ssshhhhh, say it quietly* …. the accounts department.
Yes, accounts. Every company has one. Whether a small, international, local, or huge company.
Accounts, the place where service withers quicker than a flower in 40 degrees of heat. Let me share just a couple of things with you. Just two personal experiences that have invoked moments of undesired headbanging and make you question your own insanity.
Experience number one. The beloved and much maligned payments team of HMRC. Yes, it’s true, we wanted to pay some tax, and they just wouldn’t let us. (And yes, I know they are a governmental public sector organisation, but there is a story in here.) You see, we needed a unique reference number. And they hadn’t sent it to us. Now ignore that every company name is unique, and that every company already has a unique reference provided by companies house through its registration number… Oh no, that’s not good enough for HMRC. They need another one. And without it, it seems they just won’t let you pay tax (I suddenly see the logic of the Starbucks argument!).
Now, it’s little known that within the walls of HMRC are security guards holding employees under house arrest. Ensuring they don’t betray the unwritten 127 year rules of being helpful to people calling their call centres. 5 efforts to get a number to pay them some money, before having to write a letter to a place you’ve never heard of and hope that within 28 days they may send you soemthing moderately helpful… really, it shouldn’t be that hard… should it?
And then we have example number two. I shan’t name the company (as I quite like them aside from this moment of authoritarian insanity).
Now this company has just been acquired by another. They have all the details of who we are, we’ve paid them many times since they were bought, and until this moment, not an issue has been experienced.
Pleasant experience with the people we deal with on the account, fast, helpful, friendly, understanding. The sort of people we like dealing with.
But then came….*ssshhhhhh* …. Accounts (it may help with the ambience if you play the Jaws music before leading into a frenzied 12 inch mix of the Psycho soundtrack)
Basically, it seems, that if you are a customer, you have to give your payment details in a new form over and over again, by fax, or in person, every time there is even a minor tweak to your account.
Now… imagine… you’ve worked hard winning a new customer. You bend over backwards, you beat all difficult turnaround times, you dazzle them with charm, precision, advice, brilliance, quality, value for money and everything you can imagine… and you think your job is done. You wait on the referrals, you ask them for feedback (but fail to ask about accounts) and in all, you think you have an advocate.
But the possible fly in the ointment. The accounts department where authoritarianism has gone mad using processes that are as far from customer facing as possible, tucked away in a lead encrusted bunker where service is an unknown word.
Sadly it happens all too often, and the experience can sour a beautiful relationship between supplier and customer.
So do me a favour. Every now and then, just shine a light in the deepest darkest corners of the accounts department. Maybe gain some feedback specifically from your customers (especially ex ones) and see just how you rank in the service stakes for making it easy for people to pay you.
But beware, you might be alarmed in seeing what you might find.