A Little Effort Goes a Long Way

March 5, 2009 - 12:08

Hurricane Ike, the third most damaging hurricane ever to make landfall in the United States, really took its toll on the Southern U.S. in early September 2008. According to an article by Forbes.com’s Mike Schaffner, conversation at holiday parties in Houston, Texas, typically centered on the stages of recovery from this devastating storm: Phase 1, assessing the damage, cleanup and reconstruction; and Phase 2, dealing with insurance companies.

“I think it’s fair to say the frustration and exasperation levels of dealing with insurance companies easily go beyond those of dealing with the hurricane itself,” the Forbes.com article said.

“The insurance company is dragging its feet,” party-goers would say, according to the article. Customers are passed along to a third, fourth, even fifth adjuster. They keep asking for the same information after every pass-along, even though the customer has already given it to them. Calls go unreturned, and the insurance company then offers a lot less than they should. “I don’t understand why it has to be such a hassle,” the customer laments Anyone in customer service could look at this situation and see a number of ways to greatly improve things, Schaffner wrote. But insurance companies wouldn’t welcome these suggestions; it’s to their competitive advantage to be inefficient and provide poor customer service.

The aim is, of course, for claim filers to become so frustrated that they are willing to settle for less, just to complete the process and get some reimbursement, the story said. And, in the process, the insurance company saves money. And there’s no real incentive to get better: All insurance companies operate the same basic way, so no one company has to worry about their poor customer service driving their customers to the competition. It’s just normal, industry-accepted practice, Schaffner wrote.

The piece goes on to describe how the same sort of scenario might apply in an IT environment, just by changing a few words. For the sake of our publication, let’s think of it in terms of customer service:

“The customer service is dragging its feet. I’m on the third (or fourth or fifth) customer service person. They keep asking for the same information, even though I’ve already given it to them. They don’t return my calls and want to give me a lot less than they should. I don’t understand why it has to be such a hassle.”

The situation is nearly universal, Schaffner wrote, but unlike insurance companies, poor customer service is not in the best interests of a customer service departments.

Customer service doesn’t profit from this type of behavior as the insurance companies might, the Forbes.com piece posits. It leads to customer service departments being thought of as a cost that a company should minimize instead of a value generator worthy of investment. But the perception of the company will be heavily impacted by the type of customer service provided. “It may not be fair, but perception is reality — we need to realize that and act accordingly,” Schaffner wrote.

In the current financial environment, some hard decisions. This may include cutting back on customer service. But keep in mind the ramifications of altering the quality of that service, and cut carefully. By reducing customer service, according to Forbes.com, we may be mortgaging our future status — and the current mortgage crisis is quite enough.

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