Call center team at office on the phone with headset

Just finished reading a great blog post by Paul McCord, “Your Call is Very Important to Us and Other Lies.”  I highly recommend it–very good advice.  The gist is that big companies may get away with lousy customer service because we’ve come to expect it, but small companies cannot.  Paul’s observations about customer service brought to mind a long list of unsatisfactory interactions I’ve had with companies lately–and unfortunately most of these have been small companies, local companies, owner-operated companies.

My husband and I are in the process of buying a house.  I won’t bore you with the nightmare of getting a mortgage these days–everyone expects the big banks to be a hassle.  But over the weekend, I was browsing the Internet for patio furniture.  After spending time on and, I decided I’d prefer to buy furniture from a local showroom so I could be sure of what I was getting.  I was interested in learning whether I could do that at comparable prices.

So I visited the website of a local store that specializes in patio furniture.  Immediately a customer service representative popped up inviting me to chat.  I didn’t want to chat yet, just look around, so I closed the chat window.  But another rep popped in, and another, and yet another.  By then it was getting to be annoying.

I decided on a line of furniture that interested me, but this website does not list any prices.  Rather, it has a phrase, “This vendor does not allow us to show our guaranteed lowest price.”  In order to get a price, you have to talk to customer service.  Usually I just leave a website like that, but I had spent a long time looking for the kind of furniture I had in mind.  So I opened a chat with one of the reps.  I asked one question:  “I’m interested in the XXX line of furniture, but I don’t have any idea if it fits my budget.  Can you give me a ballpark price on this particular chair?”  Now of course I have to start answering questions.

My name.  My email and phone number “in case we get disconnected.”  What am I shopping for?  When will I need the furniture?  Have I done business with them before?  Have I been in their store?   Then the kicker:  “One of our sales representatives will be calling you tomorrow.”  I typed back, “How about the price of that chair?”  She replied, “Would you like me to email it to you?”  Well, yes I would.  Then she responded,  “You will be hearing from one of our representatives.”

Before I could finish typing my angry response to this lousy chat, she closed it out!

Now like most people, I am willing to exchange some personal data in exchange for information or intellectual property.  I found this company’s expectations to be excessive, yet I responded to all their questions.  To do that and then not get the information I requested made me very angry!

My advice to them:  don’t feature live chat on your web site if you won’t allow the reps to communicate information.  And don’t make the live chat so intrusive that it’s like a smarmy salesman following you around while you’re trying to browse.  The sad thing is they probably don’t even know how often it backfires!

We’ve found that even when the price is *FREE* — like our monthly Expert Series call — customers expect a very high level of service.  Some of our callers want it to be a webinar instead of a teleconference.  Others don’t like one of the topics.  Sometimes customers didn’t get what they expected, even if their expectations were totally misaligned with our promotion.  My point is, every interaction with a customer or prospective customer is fragile and significant, even in a B2B environment like mine.  After all, the business buyer is a person, not a corporation.

Test out your own methods.  Ask people about their experience.  Take them seriously.  Do whatever you can to satisfy them or at least explain promptly and patiently why you can’t or won’t.

Do you have a customer experience #Fail to share?

How do you overcome this kind of failure in your company?