Sunday, January 04, 2015
Adding a softer touch to customer service can boost business
Are customer service representatives ethically obligated to thank customers for correcting errors? Should they be expected to show sympathy for customers undergoing personal loss? That's what P.W., a reader from the Midwest, would like to know.
Before last Christmas, P.W. had ordered several items from an online gift catalog. She received all of them in time for Christmas.
Two months later, she received another package from the same company. She hadn't ordered anything since Christmas, so she double-checked the shipping label to make sure it had her name and address on it. It did. But when P.W. opened the package, she discovered it was intended for a woman who lived two states away.
"I will not say that I didn't think for a second about keeping it," writes P.W., "but I am a believer in what comes around goes around." So she called the company and reported the wrongly-delivered package.
The customer service person peppered P.W. with questions to make sure the package was indeed sent to the wrong person.
"I don't think she believed me at first because she kept asking me how this could happen and whether my name and address were on the shipping label," writes P.W. She even asked P.W. if the rightful recipient of the package lived close by so P.W. might take it to her.
"I had to remind her that she lived two states away from me," writes P.W.
P.W. asked the customer service representative to send her a shipping label so she could return the package to the company. The customer service rep agreed to send the label, but never thanked P.W. for her honesty. When P.W. received the shipping label three weeks later, there was no note thanking her.
"It would have been nice to have gotten at least a thank you," writes P.W., who went on to recall a similar experience shortly after her stepmother died last month. P.W. called 12 companies to cancel magazines her stepmother had been receiving. Each of the companies complied with P.W.'s request, but out of the 12 publishers she called, only three of the customer service reps expressed any sympathy.
Would it have been nice if the company that sent the goods to P.W. erroneously had thanked her for her honesty? Yes. Would it have been equally nice had each of the publishing companies' customer service reps expressed sympathy? Yes, again. Were they ethically obligated to do anything beyond responding professionally and efficiently to P.W.'s requests? No.
P.W. did the right thing by alerting the catalog company about the erroneous delivery. That company and each of the publishers she contacted about her stepmother's subscriptions did the right thing by providing P.W. with a solution to the problem she was trying to solve.
But beyond encouraging customer service reps to be "nice" by expressing thanks or sympathy, it might also be wise for companies to train customer service people to express gratitude to honest customers and sympathy to grieving ones. Each shows human decency. If this isn't a strong enough motivator, simply expressing care for current or prospective customers can go a long way toward building a business relationship for the long-term.
Three of the publishing company reps likely recognized this fact. The others and the catalog company may have done the right thing, but they blew an opportunity to do more at no cost to themselves or their companies.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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