Every so often I experience situations, which as a customer irritate and infuriate me beyond belief. But they help to remind me of the critical nature of certain elements of customer service, and can be used to help agents avoid the classic pitfalls encountered when dealing with customers.
I well remember being one of the Brits stranded abroad in 2010 due to the volcanic ash cloud – my stay in Egypt was extended by six days – and witnessed the best and worst of customer service during that time. The entire experience hinged upon the quality of communication by the companies involved.
The volcanic ash crisis began two days into my family holiday, which I booked through a small independent tour operator. Once we had been informed that our return flight had been cancelled, we sought information from the firm about our best course of action, as well as guidance on what financial assistance we might receive. The tour operator simply told us to contact the airline involved and seemed entirely disinterested in our plight.
The airline was impossible to contact despite numerous attempts, which meant that our only source of information was the company’s website accessed via my mobile phone, which was of little use anyway as it failed to answer our key concerns.
With no communication from the tour operator or airline, we were left to discuss our situation with fellow hotel guests, which is when we discovered that the extent of their troubles depended on which tour operator and airline they had booked with.
Some were informed immediately that their accommodation and food would be paid for and to continue to stay at the hotel and await further instructions, but that the airline would get them home as quickly as possible. Updates were then emailed to the hotel each morning about which flights were scheduled to depart that day.
Other guests, ourselves included, were left totally in the dark, which meant that we were forced to rebook our rooms on a daily basis by phoning the tour operator in the UK. We eventually decided to book new flights with another company in case our original airline failed to honour its responsibilities.
The chasm in the quality of communication displayed by various organisations seemed remarkable and was directly responsible for the amount of stress, uncertainty and dissatisfaction experienced by their customers.
After protracted negotiations with my tour operator and airline about reimbursement, I was left totally dissatisfied with the outcome. Needless to say, I have never dealt (and will never deal) with either again and will ensure I advise as many other potential customers as possible to avoid them and thereby avoid the nightmare that we encountered.
The initial problem was clearly not their fault – but the way they handled its effects certainly was.
We are now subject to real-time information streams due to the evolution of technology, which means that we are confounded when we find ourselves in situations where information is limited.
Landlord and vendor clients who switch from one agent to another will frequently cite lack of contact as the driving force for their desire to change their allegiances. Countless friends, acquaintances and family members of mine have bemoaned their experiences with agents, who have failed to keep in touch with them during their search for a property.
Similarly, conveyancers are frequently criticised for their slow approach, which seemingly nothing happens for days or even weeks on end – at least that is clients’ perception when they are not informed of progress behind the scenes.
The key to a business avoiding such problems is to ensure clear communication at every possible stage of the process. Try to ensure that you provide vendor and landlord clients with viewing feedback within 24 hours (by email if it helps speed up the process), plus weekly telephone updates and fortnightly written progress reviews, while ensuring that buyers are updated constantly via the telephone, email, text alerts and appointment reminders, which all help to build and strengthen relationships.
Agency surveys suggest that a majority of agency customers desire weekly contact but would probably settle for fortnightly as a minimum. Whatever the frequency of your client contact, it is crucial that you manage expectations at the start of the relationship, which means that you should agree contact and communication standards with clients before disillusionment sets in and the inevitable loss of business is suffered.