Customer experience

Customer service: What are you promising but not delivering?

- July 19, 2011 3 MIN READ

What customer service messages are you sending your clients? Are you sure they’re receiving the ones you intend?

Recently I phoned a shop I wanted to buy something from. The sale required almost no effort from them. I knew what I wanted and had already decided to buy.

I wasn’t really surprised to get an answering machine, so I left a message outlining what I wanted and left my number.

I waited a full day without a response, then rang back and got the answering machine again. This time I didn’t leave a message because I figured the old one was either still there or hadn’t worked. In either case I wasn’t leaving another message.

Things were taking too long so I went out of my way to drop in to the store, where I experienced a whole new level of poor customer service.

Throughout the whole episode I couldn’t help thinking, “Why on earth do these people have an answering machine?”

Clearly they didn’t use it. I would have preferred it if the phone had rung out. At least then I’d have known no-one was available and that I wasn’t going to get a call back. Instead they gave me false hope.

From the store’s perspective, the machine had captured the details of a buyer ready to go and that opportunity had slipped through their fingers. Why would a business let that happen?

More importantly, the experience got me wondering whether I was doing anything similar with my customer service. Was I being inconsistent or misleading in the way I handled the sales enquiries I’d worked so hard to receive?

Want more articles like this? Check out the  customer service section.

It occurred to me that there are a lot of things business people do that accidentally deliver the wrong message to clients. It could be shops that aren’t open when customers are around, email addresses that never receive replies, or advertising that points to unfinished products or resources. (You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever visited a website that’s promoted as being a source of information, only to find that it’s actually just a waste of time).

In the world of design and engineering there are things called “natural affordances”. These are factors that automatically lead humans to a certain type of behaviour, most of the time without them even noticing. An example is the flat plate on a door that says “Push”. What else can you do when there’s no handle to grab? This natural affordance is an implied instruction that the behaviour triggered (pushing the door) will result in the result we desire (an open doorway).

To me the answering machine was like that. The invitation to leave a message implied that it would be received and acted on. Instead, I was left feeling as though I’d entered into a contract that had been unfulfilled.

Of course, it’s okay to have an answering machine to take calls. It is also okay not to act on the recorded messages if you can’t be bothered. Ultimately you’re only really impacting yourself. The people who are frustrated by these decisions will drift away from you and your business, and you may not even know why.

But naturally it would be smarter to apply just a little extra thought before deploying a system so that you can ensure the results are at least close to what everyone expects. The return on investment is massive. And the costs if you don’t could be even more so.

Have you had a similar experience of an implied contract that hasn’t been acted on? Please tell us about it below, just in case any of us are guilty of the same thing!

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"