Pseudo – "customer service" that people hate

Service or torture?

I am the type of person that buys a car and drives it forever.

My sturdy little BMW Z4 just passed 120,000 miles.

Today I found myself thinking a startling thought…

“When I get a new car, I don’t want to get a new BMW…I’d rather get a used one, because new BMW’s come with free maintenance for a few years and I don’t want to have to deal with BMW’s service department.

Wait, did I just say that BMW’s free service is a reason to avoid having a new BMW? Would I really rather pay to get my car serviced than to get it for free from BMW?

Yep. I hate BMW service that much.

BMW is a shining example of a company that is a slave to their customer service measures. They make a big show of measuring customer service, but don’t actually provide it.

Their approach to service is uncomfortable and painful for the client — and they don’t care.

You get what you measure

Here is an example of what I mean:

When you have any interaction with BMW sales or service, the person you are dealing with will tell you,

“You are going to get a call from a BMW survey person…When they ask you about me, make sure that you give me a 5 on everything, because if you don’t I will get in trouble”.

Some of them say it better than that, or put nicer words around it.

Some of BMW employees actually do provide good service, but then they are forced to sully the good experience by forcing the issue, and telling you outright that you need to give them a 5 on the survey.

Good service or not. It’s kind of creepy. It always makes me feel weird. It makes me feel bullied.

What is BMW actually measuring?

They are measuring… how well they can train their sales and service staff to coerce their customers into giving them 5’s on the survey. That’s it.

Here is an example.

A tale of bad service

After one of my free car service maintenance appointments, later that same day, a warning light came on. I called them about it, and I was forced to go back.

They discovered that my car was fine, but during their service they had failed to reset a switch, so it caused the light to come on. I had to cancel meetings and get stuck waiting for hours. It really screwed up my day.

When they realized it was their fault, there was no, “sorry we made a mistake”, no “sorry you had to come back”, no “sorry this took so much of your time”. So I told them “You know, when the survey people call, I am not going to give you a 5 this time”.

Giving them a chance to impact the outcome, I continued, “Is there something you would like to do for me to improve my experience?”

(psst. Here’s your chance… provide some service…)

I gave them several opportunities, saying something similar to the manager and a sales person. I hoped they would change my mind by providing actual care –- they did not take me up on it.

The dreaded phone survey

So when the phone survey person called, I gave low scores on the on the quality of the actual service, and the quality of the interaction.

I tested another thing…

Does the person doing the survey have any motivation to care? Answer: NO.

The survey taker/process is designed only to ask the questions, not to care, not to offer any service or remedy, or even share a friendly thought when someone is upset.

The consequences…

Soon after that, I got a call from my service guy.

His tone of voice made it clear that he was being forced to make this call, to follow up with me because I gave him a low score.

In this call, he gave me a hard time for getting him in trouble by giving him a low score.

So now this was my fault.

He was in trouble, and the result of his following the mandatory “service” process was to make me feel bad and uncomfortable for reporting my actual experience.

I decided to do another experiment and give him/BMW another opportunity to provide actual service. I said to him – “I was going to call you because I need another [small thing], can you help me?”

Another chance…

Now here was his shining moment — a chance to provide actual service, when no one was watching or measuring.

He assured me he would call me back later that afternoon to let me know if he had the part so I could stop by on my way home. My hope was restored.

I never heard from him again.

Are you measuring service or process?

Many companies fall into this trap.

Are you measuring how well you have achieved the desired outcome (a satisfied customer), or are you measuring some functional activity related to the service process?

Process provides a great excuse for bad service

Is your service staff trained in following service processes or in providing service?

In my example above, at every step, people were correctly following a process, resulting in my getting more and more annoyed.

Customer service people who are trained in processes often delight in not-helping customers when they confident they are correctly following the process.

I remember one time in New York when a friend brought me to his gym with a free guest pass in his hand, but he had not known that he was supposed to call ahead to get his guest pre-approved.

The person at the front desk who refused to let us in, called the main office at our request. After explaining our error to the manager, she said into the phone, with an almost squeal of delight, “Shall I turn them away?”

She was so pleased with herself for following the process and catching my friend out on not following the fine print on the guest pass.

To get your employees are focused on the service over process try:

  • Training people on what the triggers are for when to throw out the process and use their judgment.
  • Train the service employee to ask the customer “What do you think we should do to make this better for you?” And give them the ability to act.
  • Create a budget amount for solving customer problems that anyone can use without pre-approval.

The wrong measures = the wrong service

Very typical measures companies have in their service department are speed of closing a problem or the number of problems solved.

  • Solving problems fast = good.
  • Solving a lot of problems = good.

Only it doesn’t work out this way.

Measuring Speed

It’s important to understand that measure of speed can cause you to actually ignore customer problems, because your service staff is motivated to close out problems in the system quickly, vs. take the time to actually fix them.

What you get is: I got the customer off the phone quickly vs. I made the customer happy.

Spending necessary time to work with the customer (actual service) would result in a poor service score (spent too much time).

Measuring Quantity

Or if a rampant problem exists, but it is quick to fix in the moment and comes up a lot, here’s what can happen. If your measure is the number of problems solved, the service staff will benefit from leaving it broken because it is a good way to up their numbers.

What you get is: high problem solved count and lots of annoyed customers

Instead try:

  • Measuring the number of problems whose root cause has been resolved.
  • Or measure the number of customers who report their problem has been solved to their satisfaction.
  • Or look for customers who have multiple open issues, or issues open for long time periods and just call them!

Let your customer service people create great service

If you want to provide great service, have your service people help invent it.

In the BMW example, I would have each dealership manage a contest for their service team to get together and come up with three new ideas for how to provide outstanding service.  You could pay $1000 each for the best 10 ideas.

Instead of putting $10k into a survey, where you have sales and service people training the customers to give the right answers, which are of no real use to you anyway, you could be motivating Actual Service!!

The existence of the contest alone would inspire thinking about service, and you get much better ideas when you involve the people who actually do the work in coming up with the best way to improve it.

Avoiding the dark side

Take a look at what you measure.

Then Put yourself in the shoes of your service employee. If you were going to game the system to get the measures to come out looking good what would you do? What non-intended result would occur? –Because it will occur.

People like to make customers happy.  Let them.

At the very least, if you are not serious about providing actual service, please don’t torture your customers with surveys and processes that only annoy them, and give you a false sense of your greatness.

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About Patty
Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.


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