Does your customer service suck?

A real life example of why so many customers are dissatisfied

Where’s my mail?

I’m writing this article out of frustration and as a message to every business that cares about customer satisfaction. I want you to understand that there are three essential steps to ensure you have happy customers or users.

  1. Listen to the problem and try to understand
  2. Offer to find a solution and then find one
  3. Apologise for the mistake even if it was not yours

Here’s an example of what happened to me recently. We moved apartments at the end of April. In all the hustle and bustle of relocating, I forgot to change our address. On May 4th, I realised that and changed our address via the Swiss Post website.

“What is your current address?”
- I entered it, and the system found me, my girlfriend and my company. Great. 
“Would you like to change the address for all of these parties with a surcharge of CHF 5?”
- Yes.
“What is your new address?”
- I enter our new address.
“When should this take effect?”
- I enter the date, May 4th. 
“The date must be in the future.”
- I enter the next day.
“Selecting May 5th is an expedited request and will cost CHF 10 extra. Do you accept?”
- Yes. 
“Please pay for your address change and forwarding.”
I pay using the TWINT system.
“Your transaction and request have been completed.”

Interaction Experience:

Great! I took care of the situation and it was very easy to do online. In fact, I did it on my mobile. Only Swiss Post could offer such a great service, I thought.

A week and a bit went by at our new address, and there was no mail. Not one bill, not one letter, not one piece of advertising. It’s strange that there has been no post I thought. That same day, the person who now lives in our old apartment messaged me that he had a stack of mail for us. That made me think that I must check at the post office to see if everything is ok. And here is where the lesson begins.

First, I went to a physical post office across the street from our flat. It’s a smaller post office, and they tell me that they can’t help. I’ll need to go to a larger branch. I understood this. We have many smaller offices that can only send or hold mail in Switzerland. I then went to a larger branch and explained that I had made an address change with forwarding but had not received any post in over a week. “You need to pay for this service, Sir,” says the man behind the counter. I explain to him that I had paid for the service. He asks me for the receipt. I show him the confirmation e-mail. “This is not a receipt, Sir,” he tells me. I explain that I paid using the TWINT system and this is all I received from Swiss Post. The subject line of the e-mail reads “Order confirmation Change of residence Christian Langenegger”. Nonetheless, I open my bank account and show him that on the date of the order confirmation, I made a payment to Die Post AG for the amount of CHF 45.

He double checks and spots the error. “You’ve entered your old address as your new one and the new one as your old one,” he tells me. “That is strange, as it is a step-by-step process online,” I retort. “However, a mistake is a mistake, let’s correct it,” I say with a degree of urgency in my voice suggesting I just want to remedy the situation. “If I correct it, Sir, you’ll need to pay the CHF 45 again,” he explains. I should call the head office. I thank him for his time and leave.

Interaction Experience:

Positive: The man at the counter was polite, and apologised for not being able to help me. He also saved me CHF 45.

Negative: First the man suggested that I had not paid and made me prove that I had made a payment. We spent 10 minutes troubleshooting after which I was blamed, and the only result was to escalate the case to head office.

After this interaction at the post office, I called the head office and spoke to a lady on the line explaining my case. “I changed my address over a week ago, and for some reason, the new and old addresses are switched. Could we please correct this as quickly as possible?” I ask. “No, we can’t change that as quickly as possible. You must have made a mistake while entering the addresses,” she retorts. “Can you please give me your address?” she asks. “The old one or the new one?” I ask her. “The new one,” she responds. I give her my new address. “No, not finding you under that address. Could I please get your old address?” she says. I then give her my old address. “Oh yes there you are,” she tells me after typing in my details. “I’ll take a look at your account and find out where you went wrong. Who else does this change apply to?” she asks. I give her my girlfriend’s name and my business name. “Oh, yes. There is the order. Oh, that is interesting. I see that you entered the old address and the new address correctly. Hmm. For some reason the system is reversing them after submission.” she tells me. “I’ll let the people at your old post station know to change your address,” she adds.

And there we had it. I had done everything correctly, and the error was on their end.

Interaction Experience:

Positive: We found the mistake, and it got resolved.

Negative: Again, I was blamed for making a mistake. At first, I was told that nothing could be done quickly to rectify the situation. I was not offered an apology for the misunderstanding or the inconvenience. I was also not offered a refund for the extra fee I paid for the expedited service.

How could this have gone better?

Ideally, I would have gone to the post station and expressed my concern that I was not getting any mail at my new address despite having changed my address with mail forwarding. The person at the counter could have expressed understanding and asked me to describe what I had done and looked me up in the system. Upon seeing that he could not help, he could have offered to call the head office to remedy the situation as quickly as possible.

Had that call not been an option, and I had called the head office, the lady on the line should have said something like, “I understand that there may be a mistake in the system and you are not getting your mail. (Understanding of the situation). Let me see where that error may have occurred and if possible correct that for you. (Offer help). Oh, I see that we have a system error here. I will let the people at your old post office know to change the address right away. (Solution) I apologise for the inconvenience. I know that you have paid for this service and have not received it. We will refund you for the mistake. (Apology and offer to rectify the situation).”

Had that above situation occurred, I would not have written this article. I would have been mildly inconvenienced and spent 30 minutes correcting the matter, but felt like I was treated as a valuable customer. Instead, I was blamed for a mistake that did not originate with me and was not offered an apology for the inconvenience, the time that I spent to fix the situation nor was I offered compensation for the cost of the service I did not receive.

This situation is not limited to Swiss Post; it is endemic of big corporations and one of the reasons customers are often aggressive when dealing with large businesses, especially in telecommunications firms, utilities and financial services.

To bring this back to the opening of this article, if you are in charge of customer satisfaction in your business, I highly suggest that you take this example to your employees and train them to:

  1. Listen with understanding and empathy
  2. Offer to find solutions
  3. Apologise for mistakes and inconvenience

Follow-up

Yesterday, we still had not received any mail. Worried, I called Swiss Post again. This time the experience was fantastic. The lady acknowledged that I had called and saw that I was having an issue. She said she would double check and make sure that mail was being forwarded and assured me that it may take a day. She was right, we got mail the next day. She also apologised for the inconvenience and sent me a CHF 20 gift card and hand-written not apologizing for the mistake. That is customer service.