How Important is Customer Service? Ask Verizon.

September 4, 2018  |  Posted by in Customer Service, Leadership Development

4 Essential Ingredients for Effective Customer Service

Anyone tempted to downplay the importance of customer service need look no further than the PR nightmare playing out for Verizon Wireless in its handling of a data overage occurrence with the Santa Clara County Fire Department. Verizon and other wireless carriers have a policy of “throttling” users once they have reached their monthly data limit, which means data processing speed is greatly reduced. In fact, Verizon has the right to throttle all data at any time depending on network demand. In the case of the Santa Clara County Fire Department, the speed was reduced to 1/200th of its previous speed for some units at a time when the department was fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire – the largest wild fire in California’s history. The unit most impacted had been employed to “track, organize, and prioritize routing of resources from around the state and country to the sites where they are most needed” during the fire-fighting effort.

Verizon confirmed the throttling, but contends that the company has a practice of removing data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations, and have done so many times, including for emergency personnel responding to this and other fires. This event was deemed by Verizon to be a “customer support mistake.”

When notified of the throttling issue, instead of restoring data transfer speed, Verizon customer service indicated the fire department would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost, and throttling would only be removed after the fire department contacted the Verizon department that handles billing and switched to a new plan. Clearly, this was not an appropriate response to the situation, nor was it merely an error on the part of one customer service representative.

This perfect storm of a customer service disaster reflects the absence of many things: customer service training and problem solving, to be certain, but also a lack of empathy and commitment to customer satisfaction. It also reflects the lack of an “escalation plan” to address high priority or crisis situations. While the strength or weakness of these customer service elements is revealed at the point where the customer service team interacts with customers, it is a pre-determined fate, because every one of these dimensions of customer service is initiated, communicated and supported (or not) from the top of the organization down. There is no denying that the Verizon customer service crisis is more systemic than an isolated “customer support mistake.”

To ensure quality customer service is the face of your organization, provide your customer service team with these four things:

1. An authentic appreciation for customers and genuine commitment to customer satisfaction.

This perspective is cultivated from the top down and must be communicated and modeled continually. Team members mimic the attitudes and behaviors they see in leadership. What behaviors and attitudes do team members witness from you? From the CEO to the customer service manager, the customer service team needs to witness their leaders’ adoration of, interest in and priority to customers.

2. The right mindset for solving customer problems.

Every customer problem or need is an opportunity…to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. Cultivating a customer experience mentality among your customer service team will go a long way in motivating them and encouraging a different style of engagement. It’s a simple and age-old axiom: treat people as you would like to be treated. Using the Verizon experience, would you want the emergency services personnel to have access if your home or family was in danger?

3. Skills and processes for diagnosing customer needs and handling customer objections.

If you want your customer service team to effectively solve problems and delight customers, you must arm team members with communication skills and consistent, repeatable processes for understanding the problem, handling objections and defusing anger. A strong skill set, and the increased confidence that comes with it, will deliver dramatic performance improvement and positive customer experience and engagement.

4. Escalation Process

Your customer service team needs training to recognize crises or situations of great significance when they occur, as well as a defined escalation process for “fast tracking” a solution and engaging superiors for a prompt and appropriate resolution. The absence of an escalation plan is most evident on social media, when an organization “scrambles” to justify actions/position or distance the organization’s leadership from the actions of the customer service team. In the case of Verizon, it would have been prudent to have a designated and streamlined process for emergency response teams. Just as emergency service teams have a command center and chain of command, so should the organizations who support these services.

There are a myriad of factors that contributed to Verizon’s customer service failure, most of which were set in motion long before this troublesome scenario unfolded. If Verizon views the Mendocino fire/throttling incident as one customer service representative’s error, the company likely has many more customer service and PR disasters in its future. If leaders are short-sighted as to the critical nature of our customer service function as it relates to the customer experience or short-change customer service teams on the skills, processes, tools and leadership they need, we all but assure future customer crises of our own.

All content and training concepts are the intellectual property of Carew International, Inc., and any reference to these concepts must include a statement of express ownership by Carew International, Inc.


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