The One Consistent Thing in Customer Service: Inconsistency
Last week the advisory board that decide what MPs should be paid decided they should get a 10% pay rise. They had their reasons, and some of them were sound. But the headline created a backlash. In fact, most MPs were against it (publicly) but said they were duty bound to accept it after the government approved it. It was a classic ‘not me, [You Gov]’ shrug from everyone concerned right up to David Cameron who issued the ‘I don’t agree with what’s been put forward”, while stressing the IPSA was an independent body and then backing it.
But was it the pay rise that got backs up? Or was it the lack of consistency? For the rest of the public sector got a 1% pay rise freeze in last week’s budget. That the MPs rise is a one-off and that they will fall in line with public sector pay in future, matters not. This is classic inconsistency and people (the public not the MPs) hate it.
We learn consistency at an early age. Yesterday my son had two friends over to play after one invited himself last minute. My daughter had one friend over to play and it didn’t take her long to spot the discrepancy.
‘That’s not fair’ she said and disregarded the other times she’d had play dates while her brother had not. In her formative years, she doesn’t care about facts or reason, only that what she can see in front of her appears wrong. There is a whiff of double standards and that’s not good. On the plus side, at least her school are pushing her hard at maths.
Consistency (or lack thereof) is what frustrates us as customers. People return to John Lewis, Amazon, First Direct and yes, McDonalds, time and time again partly because they now that there is a guarantee of consistency every time they do, if its with the returns policy, the delivery speed, having a human touch or the taste of a Big Mac. They are less inclined to go somewhere that is hit and miss, just in case they happen to get a miss.
It’s what drives us crazy about our sports teams – ‘how can they play like that one week and like this the next?’ – and it’s one of the key things, if unwritten, we look for in our pursuit of many things (including people to share our lives with, political parties to vote for, shops to shop at and places to eat and drink).
Earlier this week, my favourite coffee shop announced it was opening a second branch. The local rag wanted an interview with a regular and they don’t come much more regular than me, so they asked me a few questions. In particular, they wanted to know why I went there.
I thought about it and although there were lots of reasons including the service, staff and ambiance, the one thing that I really valued above all was that every single time I go in, the coffee is exactly the same. Not bitter sometimes, not too strong, not too weak, not too hot or not hot enough, but basically the same drink – just a different day. How many other coffee shops can say that?
It’s consistency and it is very important to me.
It should be important for organisations too when it comes to customer service. When I am asked why the best are the best (and lets bear in mind that the same two or three names have ‘consistently’ topped the league tables for customer service) and it comes down to this factor. They get it right almost every time.
Have you ever wondered why you sometimes contact an organisation and get brilliant service yet the next time, its garbage? The ‘lottery’ of speaking to the right person. I was speaking to a friend who called their bank over a fraud dispute and the first person who answered her call said ‘we haven’t heard from you (they had) so we’ve closed the file’. When my friend argued the facts, the agent put the phone down on her and she had to call back.
‘Right, let me see. Yes, we can see you’ve called us on two occasions. The money will be back in your account in three working days’ said the new agent.
Right result, yes. But the whole thing was riddled with inconsistency. And therefore risk.
What if she hadn’t rung back? What if the second agent had been on holiday?
Yet the UKCSI (which I’m increasingly beginning to believe is a crock) says banks are improving their reputations and service. But the stories in the news about banks suggest anything but.
Sure, there are some things they do well. But they do a lot of things that really get customers backs up, and not just naming their cash machines as if they are children (and treating their customers like they are children too).
My own bank is a prime example. I have long been a critic of their on-line banking service (which was diabolical) and in the last 18 months they have really improved it to a point where it doesn’t break every few days and where I can actually transfer money without hassle. Yet the very same bank wrote to me and said that although I had paid them £17.99 a month for seven years for a packaged bank account, I didn’t actually qualify for it and so they were putting me onto a standard current account because not all of the benefits would apply. But that letter was months ago and they have continued to take the money since. So I complained and they said they’d look into it, and since I’ve had a letter each month from them saying the ‘investigation’ is taking longer than they anticipated!
At least I can check they have debited the £17.99 because their online system works better.
But I’m not sure the measure (or the message) is consistent either. The UKCSI also says that transport is getting better, yet the stories suggest that trains and planes are complained about more and more with every passing week. 400 airline complaints to the regulator alone every day according to a story posted on our website today and less than a month since we posted a similar article about trains.
Apparently, Utilities are also getting better. Next it will be claiming that Greece is happy about the bail-out conditions and Tesco is decent at maths. Or that the voters are happy with the MPs pay rise.
If we get mixed messages about what service is like, it only muddies the waters further. Are we getting better? Are we getting worse? Are we ‘flat-lining’ – which I always took to be a bad thing – as the UKCSI suggests. Or is this just another inconsistency that leaves customers scratching their heads. Besides, the error margin on the survey could account for the tiny changes anyway.
Now, if they said that customer service inconsistency was becoming more consistent, I’d be more inclined to believe them.
Darren is Business Development Director at Customer Service Network and is usually the first person that new customer's speak to, He advises on the best ways to move forward on the Service Excellence Journey and the key benefits of doing so.
Darren's background was in financial services and he has since worked for Hillarys and Baxter...