Bad Policies Thwart Customer Service

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineSwitching cable TV providers seems to be a biennial event at our house. With our contract up and sign-up incentives over, my wife called our current provider for a better rate. There were none; the call center agent didn’t have the authority to lower our bill. Also, she must have had an incentive to up-sell us, because every option she suggested would have increased the cost of our service, either immediately or a few months later.

We also struggled with a tired DVR whose prime days were over. Though we were renting the unit, our provider declined our request to replace it. My wife even told this agent that we had switched to his company because the provider before that refused to resolve an equipment problem. The agent’s response was to reset it and call back the next time we had a problem. This allowed him to report that he had “resolved” the issue over the phone, thereby averting a service call or equipment replacement.

Stymied by their refusal to help, we switched carriers. That’s when our current provider finally offered us a better rate and new equipment as well.

I feel sorry for these agents. Management expects them to overcome bad policies, ones that make their jobs harder by:

Handcuffing Agents: The company was willing to give us lower rates to obtain our business, but not to keep it. Our reward for being a long-term customer was a higher bill. They trained us to expect a better price but wouldn’t let their agents give it to us. If customer service is truly the goal, agents should be given the authority to do what is required to do their job.

Motivating Counterproductive Behavior: Management provides agent incentives, causing them to sell what we didn’t want. This was irritating and not helpful.

Encouraging Easy Solutions: Agents are expected to solve problems over the phone, even when scheduling a service call or replacing equipment is needed. This apparently becomes more important than serving and keeping customers.

Expecting Agents to Save Customers After It’s Too Late: Our provider had a special team to “retain” customers, who became involved only after we’d made other service arrangements. This would have been so much easier to do prior to us switching providers.

Each of these practices, while in a way understandable, addresses big-picture issues and is corporate-focused, not customer-centric. It makes no sense to save a bit of money today if you will lose a customer as a result. This cable company put ill-conceived programs in place, hindering agents from helping customers and often doing more to drive away business than keep it.

I suspect that many good agents become frustrated and quit. I wouldn’t want to work there either. Corporate management probably wonders why call center turnover is so high, but instead of simply fixing bad policies, I bet they have another program in place to address agent churn.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of  Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From Connection Magazine December 2012]