8/20/2014

Customer Service in the 21st Century

I recently experienced some terrible customer service from my local credit union. At first, I decided to blow it off and start looking for a new credit union or bank. Since I’d come to that credit union because of awful and incompetent service from Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Charles Schwab, I decided to put a few moments of effort into registering a complaint with the credit union. Their response was encouraging, so I put a little more effort into them and they responded respectably. After resolving many of my complaints and restarting our relationship, I wrote this note to the branch manager.

Kari,

Thanks for your email, patience, and interest in my complaint. It may not sound like it, but I appreciate the attitude Affinity Plus employees take with complaints. I actually care a lot about the idea of a community credit union and have more than just money invested in Affinity.

I'm discovering that my background in manufacturing engineering, quality control and reliability assurance, and technical writing makes me an odd customer. One of the rules US companies used to know when they actually made products is that customers base their loyalty on their experience with the products and customer service. Screw up either and you are lost. In the late 80's, when we quit making our own stuff and farmed that work out to other countries, management lost sight of anything more complicated than exorbitant salaries and bonuses and buck-passing. A good rule of thumb for customer complaints is that rarely more than 1% of customers will bother to complain about poor service. Ignore that 1% and you can pretend you are shipping nearly perfect product or performing to your customer’s expectations.

I actually worked, for a very short time, for a company in Chicago whose quality “policy” was to ignore the first customer complaint under the assumption that no more than 10% of the 1% would complain twice. With that set of procedures, they could claim a product failure/return rate of less than 0.05% with a 50% known defect manufacturing process. The company I’d recently left worked for years to drive our actual product failure rates below 1% during warranty (which was 3 years instead of 90 days for the Chicago company) while my new employer believed they were doing more than twice as well by ignoring customer complaints.

The difference between the two companies in other areas was substantial, too. However, my old employer relied on return customers and consistently produced a 20+% profit margin for the ten years I worked there. My new employer was, not surprisingly, happy to turn any sort of profit and usually broke even on the rare occasion the bottom line was considered. Obviously, the Chicago company had next-to-no return business and no customer loyalty. I lasted slightly less than 30 days in Chicago. They had no need for my experience and I had no interest in participating in their business “plan.”

I’ve found that the worst thing any organization can do is to ignore the few complaints they receive and create obstacles for customer feedback. I can not explain why Americans are so disinclined to complain when it might do some good, while we’re more dissatisfied with our quality of life than most 1st world nations. Regardless, any company that wants to perform at a level above its competition has to keep this psychology in mind.

Thanks for your interest and for pursuing solutions to my complaint.

Regards,

Tom Day

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