Monday, August 2, 2010

I wonder if some of those phone transfers to @drainey1 got dropped

Jesse Stay alerted me to a July 30 post that originally appeared in VC in DC in February. The post, by Don Rainey, was entitled "Always, always, always talk to your angry customers." Rainey stated that when he ran companies, his policy was to have any angry customer calls transferred to HIM. Why?

I took those calls for years, and even some many were decidedly uncomfortable, what often surprised me was how much I could learn by listening to angry customers. Over time I identified more employee problems as a result of those calls than I did by any other means.

Rainey gave an example:

An angry customer [was] on the phone with a support person....The customer said, “I spent a lot of money on this product… and it was delivered with a part missing. I need that resolved immediately!”

The employee said, “I understand the problem… but it will take a fair amount of time to resolve. It’s now 4:45 and I get off at 5:00. It will take more than fifteen minutes to resolve this issue; I think it’s best if you called us back tomorrow.”

What happened next?

Another employee overheard the call, stepped in, and had the call transferred to me.

The CEO got someone to ship the part to the customer overnight...and the employee who originally took the call in an unsatisfactory matter got the opportunity to re-enter the job market.

A good story, and Rainey clearly illustrates a point.

But what if the second employee hadn't overheard the conversation? What if the first employee swiftly hung up on the customer, or accidentally "lost" the connection when transferring the call to a supervisor?

While Rainey's "transfer angry callers to me" policy certainly engendered a lot of customer goodwill, no system is perfect. We are not perfect, and even the best employees had a bad day. Take this Regions Bank example, in which a call to a previously helpful person went sour. Sunni Hendrix called Regions Bank regarding an overdraft, and the representative hung up on her. She called back and asked to speak to a manager, and got the same representative. By this time even a call back from a real manager didn't help:

Later a manager by the name of Mary called me and I told her about the women hanging up on me and she couldv'e cared apology or anything.

Eventually Mrs. Hendrix went to a local branch, where someone apologized to her and straightened the whole thing out. However, so much badwill had built up that Mrs. Hendrix still was not satisfied. First, she actually went to the site and posted her complaint. Second, she closed her complaint by saying:

[The original representative] should not be in her current position if this is how she deals with customers. I will pursue this matter until I get an apology from her or someone at that branch.

Apparently no Don Rainey is taking calls from irate Regions Bank customers - and it shows. In a 2008 survey in the southeastern United States, Regions Bank ranked dead last in customer satisfaction.

Unfortunately, I can't really compare Regions Bank's customer service with the customer service at the organizations that employed Rainey, since most of the companies that employed Rainey (Attitude Network, DaVinci Systems, Novell) no longer exist as separate entities. (In fact, even some of the acquiring firms - and ON Technology - no longer exist either.) Now some parts of Rainey's firms survive as bits within IBM and Symantec, and even though I don't like Symantec's marketing practices, even I wouldn't characterize Symantec as "dead last," and IBM certainly doesn't deserve that designation.

I hope that there are a few people at those firms who are carrying on Rainey's tradition.
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