There I was, arms full of beach ball, trying to leave Walmart and finding myself confronted by a Blue Vest wanting to see a receipt. During the ensuing cavity search (that is, my search of the cavities of my purse for the damn receipt) it occurred to me that I was being treated like a criminal and not like a customer. A fact I mentioned to the cringing Blue Vest who shrugged and said something about policy before wandering off to not trust someone else.
My blue friend doesn’t trust me because her employer doesn’t trust her. She is presented in a day with dozens of processes, routines, checklists and invasions of privacy that remind her how many millions of dollars people like her are pilfering from the backrooms of the nation’s retailers. When they’re done with that, they give her the task of preventing people like me from emptying the shelves in the front of the store.
Lack of trust is an unspoken tenet of our relationship with most of our commercial and institutional suppliers. It pervades our customer service systems as well. Even in B2B our call scripts, call centre metrics and training programs begin with the tacit assumption that the customer wants something to which they are not entitled. We demand proofs of purchase, account numbers, PIN numbers, invoice numbers and sometimes personal information before we’ll even start to fix the problem.
We force our service agents through ridiculous processes and scripts that infuriate and waste customer time for no better reason than it might prevent the agent from somehow gaming the system and offering service where none is due. In a huge number of cases the customer and agent can both diagnose the problem in the first 30 seconds, but because we trust neither party, we force them to dance for a few minutes just to remind them that we, not they, are in charge here and that they, not we, had better not try anything funny.
We force tenured customers in good standing to wait three days for a credit check when they want to buy more from us. We make customers beg for a service call by escalating multiple times. We route their calls to outsourced centres staffed by people who could not be further removed from the relationship and through whom there can be no emotional extension of our brand.
We justify it all in terms of authentication and security and best practices, but really, how much of that is genuine and how much is a convenient cover for our lack of imagination in designing systems that actually serve customers instead of punishing staff?
At the same time that we’re creating barriers-to-exit for our customers and our employees, we’re studying the gold standard companies for customer service: Apple, Ritz-Carlton, Southwest Airlines and the rest of the gang. We learn about empowerment, front-line decision making, accountability, creativity and all those wonderful things. But I think we fail to acknowledge that each is based fundamentally in trust and none can succeed without taking risks and coming up with imaginative ways to reward the vast majority of our customers and employees who approach transactions with good faith and honest intention.
My Q3 resolution is to go read our customer service scripts and find all the things that demonstrate a lack of trust and see how they can be removed or at least rewritten with goodwill and imagination. Is anyone getting this right in the B2B space?