It all started with a simple email exchange. The final mail was short and to the point ‘ thanks for the great customer service, sadly it is unusual.’  It got me thinking.For me the exchange was pretty straight forward. A customer had emailed in with a query. I was in early, before the customer service team had arrived and I logged in to our email management tool. It was a straight forward request so I jumped in and answered it. The customer came back later than morning with another question and having had the initial correspondence with me I again answered it. No big deal?

Then I remembered a recent experience with a utility here in the UK. I was dumb founded when I mailed them with a billing inquiry and received an auto reply advising that I could expect to hear back from them “within 28 Working Days”. They had to be kidding? But they were not.

I diarized forward the 28 “Working Days”. The 28 working days passed. My query remained unanswered. It prompted another mail. You guessed where this is going – the same automatic response. I headed straight to Twitter where I relayed the story as best I could within the constraints of a 140 character limit. I think my post contained a phrase relating to them ‘abusing monopoly powers’. My response from a concerned customer service person was within the hour, yet this impressive response time was not matched by any substance. The query remained unanswered until eventually thirty something working days after my initial mail I had a meaningful response.

While these two extremes represent different narratives, I’d like to think more and more of us are striving to be more like my opening example. In today’s world, customer service needs to be improved to levels that even Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com fame would be happy with#. It needs to be personal, responsive and device agnostic. Customers are no longer content to sit ‘on hold’ while the premium priced number racks up a bill under their name. Social media brings transparency to all and service levels increasingly inform purchase decisions.

As managers we need to adapt to this new world. If it means extra training for staff then so be it. Or better product design. Or increased resources.  As one entrepreneur I heard speak recently put it – “every customer service contact is an opportunity for us to assess whether we could be doing things better”.

Finally, if it means better tools and products to manage customer service these too need to be considered as worthwhile investments. In this instance, Email Center Pro, a cloud based email management tool we developed in-house at Palo Alto Software played it’s part in enabling me manage incoming support mail efficiently. A good workman  praises his tools.

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Alan Gleeson
Alan Gleeson

Alan Gleeson is the General Manager of Palo Alto Software UK, makers of LivePlan and Business Plan Pro. You can follow him on Google+.