Things can go very wrong  for a customer service representative. Especially if I’m at the other end of the phone with the poor sod who picked up the phone. Case in point: I recently had the need to find an analytical testing company to have some material properties measured.  So, I go to my good friend, Mr. Google, for some listings. I find a few hits and begin to make some calls. 

My first contact was the customer service rep from a large international testing operation. I told the young lady what tests I wanted and she told me that before anything could happen, I’d need to send her the MSDS of the material in question. They had many labs all over the world and she would send the MSDS to the approriate lab. Wanting only to talk to a person about their basic capabilities and what is involved, I asked for a number. She declined. It was thursday and I went home. I had no intent of shipping them an MSDS. And evidently they had no intention of deviating from their procedure. Two of the components were edible and the third is commonly used by motorists.

Tuesday morning it was obvious that I needed to call again, so this time I was answered by a young fellow who promptly looked up my email address and stated flatly that they were waiting to receive the MSDS documents. There was a lot of back and forth and it ended with my pulling rank as an indignant customer with the tenor of one who was elder to the customer service rep. I was in angry professor mode.

Later that day I received a call from a sales rep. The salesman said he’d speak to a lab somewhere in TX.

Meanwhile, these  people were diddling around following their protocols and policies, so I found a company who would talk to me about the problem straight away. I received a quote, got approval, and ginned up a purchase request. Raw mats are on the way and the PO should go out today.  The first company I contacted hasn’t even responded yet. They think the ball is still in play.

So, what is the problem?  Having been through multiple consulting episodes with many sales and marketing consultants, I know what kinds of neat and tidy packages are offered by such people.  Business consultants sell plans and protocols. They sell the illusion of order and organization. They make managers feel like their sales organsization can be fashioned into a Teflon-slick, low overhead selling machine. Sometimes this is actually possible. Sales consultants will say that there are customers out there that you do not want to have. Customers who take a disproportionate fraction of your time are to be avoided. Lookers and tire kickers. Hagglers. They all require energy and time.

To optimize the customer contact side, they will devise chutes for the customers to glide into. You recognize this- the accursed automated phone answering systems that large organizations have is one such example. It is a sorting mechanism. A way to channel and rank prospects into a preorganized stream of tiered prospects. It has an important screening function which is separating the wheat from the chaff.

Where this company went wrong was their religious adherence to their protocol. They are prepared to lose customers who will not file up in their queue to shell out the preliminaries. I was brusquely transferred for someone else to deal with.  Sales is a numbers game. The more customer contacts you have the higher the sales numbers will be.  While their system appears to be efficient, they failed to grasp that some customers like myself would really prefer to have a few words with a person. A few minutes of back and forth with the lab guy who got my business assured me that they understood what I needed and could provide it. I rewarded him with a PO.  Customer service is is really customized service. Once the customer calls, your devotion should be to them, not just the protocol.

Sometimes it is dumb to be too smart.