• United States
by Steve Taylor and Larry Hettick

Mailbag: Customer service winners

Feb 10, 20033 mins

* Readers write in about customer service done right

A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the alarming level to which 21st century advanced technology has resulted in a 19th century (or even the Dark Ages) level of customer service. We also asked you to let us know about some of the winners and losers in customer service out there. We’d like to share some of the responses today.

One of the most popular winners was the ability of pharmacy chains to process prescription refills without intervention. One reader wrote:

“Automatic call [distribution] gates drive me freakin’ nuts! The only one I can say I’ve dealt with that has any real usefulness to it is one of the pharmacy lines. If you want to refill a prescription, you call, enter ‘1’ to use the automated system and follow the prompts. You enter the 11-digit number on your bottle, and if it’s refillable, it’s taken care of. You can leave questions for the pharmacist or a phone number to call or just end the call.

“On the other hand, Web pages drive me over the edge when there is no ‘contact us’ utility or it offers only a snail-mail address. You’re using the Web; why are you offering only a postal address? The ever-popular FAQ tree for answers is even worse. If I could find my answer in the FAQ section, I wouldn’t be looking to contact anybody, would I?”

Another reader lobbied for using instant messaging or chat for improved customer service, writing:

“I (like many others) have worked for a failed start-up. Our instant messaging solution was a great piece of engineering searching for a use. While we failed, another company found a use/need for the solution and is doing well, I think.

“This company provides a Web-based IM solution for call center applications. For those of us who use the Internet, we can use IM to instantly get answers to common questions via an IM session with an intelligent server that delivers responses to FAQs. If we don’t like that, we can be instantly connected to a live representative through IM who can handle at least four sessions simultaneously – bringing the cost of serving customers way down.

“I’m willing to accept an instant written response to my question instead of a voice response as long as I don’t have to navigate a phone queue. 

“The nice thing here is that the customer service representatives can have engineers, administrative and other resources available (besides database access to my account) that they can query if they can’t answer my question. This system can offload a great deal of calls, leaving the phone queue to the poor souls who don’t use the Internet.

“It’s near instant, it’s personal, it’s detailed, it’s ‘savable’ with a copy-paste, and it’s efficient for the company that has to serve customers.”

We’ll add our comment here that there’s a very real advantage to having an electronic copy of customer service interactions; we used to refer to this as a “paper trail.” It sure goes a long way in terms of avoiding the he-said/she-said that’s created when only using voice as a communications method.