Companies’ customer service even in down turn – not up to the mark

Auto sales are down, durable goods’ sales are down, demand for housing is down, airline passenger loads are down, there is hardly any sector that seems immune. In such a scenario you would expect it to be a buyers’ market. You would think companies would be willing to go that extra mile to keep customers happy because, as any marketing man worth his salt will tell you, a happy customer is unlikely to talk of his experience.

But an unhappy customer will relate his woes to anyone who will care to listen. And in hard times when new customers are tough to come by; repeat customers are worth their weight in gold.

What does this mean? It means you would expect companies to pay much greater attention to customer service, especially after sales service, than ever before. Yet this is something a few corporates have internalised.

Perhaps it has something to do with the long period of expansion (till the recent slowdown) that saw companies expend all their energies in a mad chase for new customers. Perhaps it has something with the Indian market long being a sellers market where buyers had no choice but to lump it.

In such a scenario after-sales service was just not a priority. And with the race for additional business becoming the name of the game, companies, typically, outsourced customer service. As far as companies were concerned, it was simply more convenient to focus on procuring new business and out czsource after-sales service. In theory this makes eminent sense.

In practice, if customers are not treated well by the service centre, it is bound to boomerang on the company.

A recent example from the airline industry is given here. Indigo Airlines is among the better of the low cost airlines in the country. It prides itself on its customer service, on being on time and never fails to tell those flying with it that it has been voted the best low-cost airline etc.

Sometime in the middle of November the airline scrapped its morning flight from Chennai to New Delhi. No intimation was sent by the airline to passengers already booked on that flight for subsequent days. The result was two passengers who showed up at Chennai airport in time for the flight found to their dismay there was no such flight. The ground staff was clueless and denied knowledge of the flight altogether.

After persistent questioning it transpired the airline’s call centre had made a couple of unsuccessful attempts on the contact’s cell phone number provided, after which the airline unilaterally put them on a much later flight to Delhi. What was particularly galling was the attitude of the airline staff.

Far from being apologetic, a member of the staff asserted the airline had the right to cancel its flights. But did it not also have the responsibility to ensure that those booked on the flight were informed? When asked why no SMS had been sent, the airline staff washed their hands off the matter saying that was the job of the call centre, not the airline.

Indigo is not an exception. Many private sector banks have lost a great deal of goodwill because of the actions of their direct selling agents and recovery agents.

Take a straw poll and almost everyone will have a tale to tell of how companies were when they went to buy and after the purchase was made there was a problem requiring after-sales service.

Mobiles and computers are a case in point. These are often sold by franchisees but the agencies do not want to discredit their hands with after-sales service. The net result is customers are often forced to run from pillar-to-post if they have a problem.

If companies are serious about tackling the slowdown in demand, this must change. Like banks that securitised assets and parceled them out to different investors and forgot their original borrowers with dire consequences — corporates that ignore the principal-agent relationship inherent in outsourcing are making a big mistake.

We hope that the slowdown force them to amend their ways and take the requisite care of their customers.