News day / LISA ALLEN-AGOSTINI

CUSTOMER service in TT can be a nightmare. Recently a woman who reached out to a car rental company via social media was rewarded with death threats when she rejected sexual attention from the customer service representative with whom she dealt. That was an extreme instance, but many average people can testify to surly, unhelpful or glacially slow attention from customer service representatives across the board.

Customer care transformation is the business of DRA Consulting, a Mucurapo-based firm led by Dawn Richards. Richards and DRA soon will launch a national consultation on customer service.

For the past eight years, Richards said, her company has focused on providing training in soft skills: team building, conflict resolution and customer service. “Customers complain a lot [in TT] about service delivery. We have designed a model specifically for the Caribbean. We don’t just concentrate on frontline training; we include everybody. It’s a total company approach to transformation so that everybody in the company has the same level of urgency, the same level of skills that are required to deliver great service.”

Richards has been in business about 20 years and over time she has concluded service in the Caribbean often falls short of what the customer expects. TT service is particularly bad.

“I think we have an extremely lackadaisical approach to service here because we’ve never had to be so connected to service, she said. “We’ve had oil, we’ve had gas, products that basically sell themselves. The psychological contract with the customer has been, ‘It’s a pain to serve you.’ One of the first things we do is change that psychological contract to ‘It’s a pleasure to serve you.’”

In TT there have been incidents reported in the media where customer service reps or security officers have been violent towards customers or others using the services.

Complaints about unpleasant and rude customers are common in the service industry; Richards says customer service representatives should have the skills to manage “the multiple ways in which customers present themselves,” even the hostile or inappropriately familiar ones. Emotional literacy and emotional regulation are two key topics DRA emphasises in its modules. The first thing is to get those CSRs to “calm down… and get past feeling disrespected” by customers.

A satisfied customer tells two people about her experience; a dissatisfied customer takes to Facebook and Twitter. “It’s really a disruption that’s happening, driven by customers who are reluctant to tolerate poor service.” Poor counter service can drive customers to online outlets, she said. It’s a loss for the business and the country.

Most companies are in competition for customers; you can measure the cost of poor service in lost business. Companies need to have a coherent service strategy that is standardised and consistent, Richards said. The new drivers of competition are convenience, personalisation, timeliness, speed and ease of doing business. “Companies that are intent on being the most admired… have to do a service audit. Where are we failing?”

The consultation, planned for early September, will seek to bring employer, service industry worker and customer together to have a national conversation about what Richards calls “pain points”. “Right now, that topic is discussed fractionally, in cliques.” Publishing the findings of the consultation will be a step towards remediation.

After the consultation, in early October DRA will spearhead the founding of a customer service association. The membership-based association will be the voice of service in the country and enable organisations to establish a coherent approach to providing great service. It will lobby for standards and best practice adoption. From that, DRA will host a customer experience conference next year.

“It is to get TT to understand we need a coherent approach to delivering great service. There are specific steps that need to be taken. External service must equal internal service. If inside the organisation you have HR issues, you’re not going to get great [customer] service. If your employees are unhappy, they’re not going to smile. Our project is a culture shift. The first group we treat with is the leadership, because the culture at the top determines the entire culture [of the business].”

For more info about the customer service national consultation: draconsultingtt.com.

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