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(I’m still working out a few snags with my cable modem, so the pics and write-up from Ouachita will have to wait) – In the meantime:

I’ve had a couple of experiences just recently that have brought to my attention how much of customer-service is simply the application of good communication.

It is now almost a full month since I discovered that my bank card had been canceled due to a group of account numbers having been tampered with.  I found out about the card’s cancellation not by a phone call, letter, or even e-mail.  I found out by trying to use it, having it not work, trying to use it at an ATM (because I thought the cashier might have either done something wrong or her reader was being fickle) and having the ATM suck up my card, retain it, and give me an error message ordering me to contact my bank.  Predictably, I freaked, having images of identity theft, drained bank accounts, and a mountain of financial and legal troubles looming before me.  A frenzied call to the bank confirmed that my card had been compromised, canceled, and that my accounts were just fine, as was the security of my identity.

I could have been spared that morning of panic had the bank given me the courtesy of a phone call or other notification of having canceled my card.  It was an emergency situation, so I can understand the short notice, but even afterward, I never received a letter, phone call, e-mail, NOTHING confirming the cancellation or explaining the situation.

So after I learned about the card fiasco, I went into the physical office of my bank the following business day and ordered a new bank card.  The teller informed me that it would be 7-10 business days before I received it.  A week passed, and I figured I’d better keep a close eye on my mailbox.  I figured, okay, so this is going to be closer to the 10-day mark – no biggie.  Ten days passed, nothing.  At 14 days, I was getting concerned, not to mention annoyed.  Being without a bank card is a pretty significant inconvenience these days, when nobody will accept checks and I have to go in to the bank office every time I need cash for something.  On Day 14, I went back into the bank office and inquired as to the whereabouts of my bank card.  The teller did a little research and informed me that it was never delivered; that something had gone wrong, it had been returned to the issuing office and destroyed.

I was incredulous.  Nobody ever called me to confirm my address when it was returned.  I’d never received any communication of any kind letting me know that there had been a problem.  No call, no letter, e-mail, nada, zip, zero.  No.Thing.  I was pretty irritated at this point, because it was now sitting at two-and-a-half weeks since my card had been canceled without notice.  I asked the teller if they could possibly expedite the issue of my new card since there had evidently been an error in processing.  She inquired with a  supervisor and informed me that in order to overnight a new card to me, there would be a $90 fee.  I decided that my convenience wasn’t worth $90 and told her I was fine with the 7-10 day wait.  The problem was that this would be cutting it awful close – on what would be Day 8, I was to be leaving town for a long weekend, and it sure would have been nice to have had a debit card while traveling. With any luck, the new-new card will be showing up sometime early this week.  A full month, plus some days, since the original card had been canceled.  I swear, if there is another problem with this new card, I am going to take my accounts to a different bank.  The lack of communication and repeated bungling doesn’t inspire confidence, you know?

The second (or third) instance of poor communication that had given me a kind of bad impression of a company I’ve done business with had to do with having my ailing computer overhauled.  It turns out that among the problems that it had was that one of the two hard-drives was dying.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t made aware of this until I got the computer home, started unpacking it to set it up, and found one of the hard-drives wrapped up in a plastic bag in a bundle of manuals, discs, and cords.  I looked at the hard-drive and thought, “Why is this not in my computer?  I have two hard-drives and distinctly didn’t ask that they eliminate one of them.  WTF?  I am going to call them immediately and find out why they took out and left out one of my hard-drives!”

I called the computer shop and was informed that this particular hard-drive was too jacked up to put back in – it was no good at all.  Moreover, the guy who worked on my computer wasn’t in and I would have to wait a day to speak with him.  I said that I’d call back when he was in and find out what was the problem.

The problem, in my mind however, is that he didn’t call me when he found out that this hard-drive was toast.  He should have called me, let me know what was going on, and offered me the option to just have the one drive, or to replace this dead drive while we were at it.  If he’d given me a call, given me a heads-up, and offered some options, I wouldn’t have had that initial assumption that he had forgotten to complete the job or that he had done something completely different than that which I’d asked him to do.

Despite the fact that I don’t really consider myself a “people person,” I have been working in customer service (and now in “Communication”) since I moved to Kansas City over 8 years ago.  I’ve learned that the key element of “good customer service” is communication.  Whenever I’ve had to do something different for a customer, I’ve gotten in touch with that person and let them know what I was doing, when I was doing it, and why it was being done.  Only a handful of people found these heads-up calls annoying or extraneous.  The vast majority of the people I’ve helped over the years were glad to hear from me, and found the clarification comforting and useful.

Now that I am working in PR/Communications, I find that my work hasn’t changed that significantly in intent, just in delivery.  When I was in Customer Service, my role was typically much more passive.  I was there as a point of contact; people came to me or called me when they needed a service.  When I made calls to people or sent written communication it was almost always follow-up.  Now, my job is more pro-active, where I contact parties who will be affected by the work my organization does.  I give people a heads-up about work we’ll be doing or explain about proposed projects, policies, and related programs.  The basic concept is very similar in that I am somebody who provides information, only now I provide it unbidden whereas previously people had to inquire specifically.

Given my experiences as a customer-service provider and now as a PR-type person, as well as my experiences as a customer, I’ve developed an appreciation for good communication as part of a company’s customer-service, and it definitely stands out to me when it is lacking.

4 Responses to “Customer Service is communication/Communication is customer service”

  1. planetmort says:

    You are far more patient with your bank than I would have been, o_c! That’s just flat out unacceptable!

  2. Yeah, I like this entry… and your job is a lot like my job, we’re advocates for the customer, or patient, in my case.
    People often don’t have the courage or the time to ask the docs that they see about what it going on, and are very often completely clueless; when they ask me (I;m much less intimidating than most docs) I tell them that they are their own best advocates.
    When Karen first got sick, I had a lot of guiding to do, but as the disease progressed, she got a lot more proficient about finding out things and asking the right questions… it’s an educational process.

    Thank you for continuing to be here.

  3. wipeout says:

    Were you in Canada, I would be 98% certain you banked with CIBC. What your bank put you through is wildly unprofessional. I really hope you get your card this time.

  4. mixte says:

    I feel like just about every transaction I’ve had to deal with in the last week or so has been full of bad customer service, from minor rudeness (the lady at the CUSTOMER SERVICE desk at Target) to major inconvenience and BS (the cable company). The worst part is, there is really nothing you can do about it!

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