11 November 2016
By Kenneth Lim, Manager, PwC Malaysia
Take a minute and compare these two statements:
“… in our usual terms and conditions, it expressly states that a confirmed booking cannot be cancelled and payments made are not refundable. On the other hand, it’s the responsibility of the guest to ensure that all relevant documentations required are obtained prior to entering a country. We reserve the right to refuse carriage to any Passenger who has not complied with, or whose documents do not appear to comply with, such applicable laws, regulations, orders, demands or requirements.”
“Thank you for taking the time to explain the issues that have occurred recently. We apologise [for] any inconvenience you have experienced. Kindly be informed that we have highlighted this issue to the relevant team in charge so that we can improve our services and continue to provide excellent services to our valued customers.”
These two email responses landed in my inbox recently - both were sent by the same airline. I had submitted a refund request earlier, using the feedback form available on the airline’s website. However, due to technical glitches, I ended up submitting two forms for the same case - but that isn’t the point. Rather, I was awestruck by the polarised emotions I felt after reading these messages.
In the first email, the writer appeared to be speaking on behalf of the airline, using a standard communication template, quoting guidelines and policies. Distressed, I immediately questioned whether the airline was testing out its new customer service robots. But the writer had signed off the email as Paula, so I had to be wrong. I wondered then if she had read and understood the circumstances surrounding the incident at all.
The second email, comforted me that Sarah - the signatory - was indeed a living human. (Phew!) And that she had put herself in my shoes before deciding how she should respond to my request. She was speaking for the company – but this time, in her own words, using the company values as her guide.
Businesses today interact with their customers almost continuously, sometimes across multiple channels. The advent of social media and advancement in technology means that the linear marketing value chain we’re used to, now caves in and wraps itself around the customer. Literally, everything is one step away from a purchase.
What this means, is that the slightest slip-up in their buying experience could result in a customer emptying their shopping cart in a flash, abandoning their order just when you’re about to hand them the invoice. What’s more, this looming prospect continues even after you’ve closed the deal.
Surely businesses can get their customer service to work, or can they? My recent positive experience with an overseas bank assured me that they can. I wanted to find out more about a number of unknown charges that had cropped up in my bank statement – some incurred more than a year ago! So I logged on to the bank’s online chat service. After a two-minute wait, I was greeted by a customer service rep. Our conversation was casual as she investigated the charges. As it turned out, I had unknowingly withdrawn a sum beyond my account limit and was charged an overdraft fee. In the end, she agreed to reverse the charges; but not without a friendly warning that her kind gesture would not be repeated. I left the chat feeling grateful. And when a friend was planning to relocate to the country, I shared the experience and recommended the bank to him.
Businesses can benefit from taking a long term view when attending to customer requests: letting go of small amounts now could strengthen, and even increase, customer trust and loyalty. For the overseas bank, it won them an advocate and a new customer.
So how should businesses respond when customers approach them directly? Consider starting with these three things:
In the airline example, my refund request was ultimately approved. But my experience with the first email had tainted the second, more positive one somehow. The erosion of trust built over many years of flying with the airline means that I would now think twice before booking my next flight with them.