How Poor Processes Equal Poor Customer Service

cs You’ve likely had a few bad customer service experiences.  Irritating is sometimes the only way to describe them.

But what you may not have considered is what lead to that  bad customer service experience.

I just had a real life bad customer service experience that reminded me why my business delivers one of our offerings to clients – process improvement.  Processes are how your business gets work done, how you execute on your mission, how you deliver customer service – and how you make money. Process improvement and customer service relate to one another.

Bad customer service is often the result of poorly documented, poorly communicated and  poorly executed processes.

Let me share with you my experience – the process, communication, and customer service problem…

I had a car accident a few weeks ago. Luckily it was minor damage and the car was drivable. I called my insurance company to notify them. My insurance company took my information and said they would send an adjuster. The adjuster came to my house, inspected the vehicle, wrote an estimate, and referred me to one of the local body shops participating in their guaranteed network. He informed me that he would notify Enterprise Rent-A-Car (Enterprise) and set up a direct bill for the rental while my car was in the shop.

A few days later I got a courtesy call from Enterprise telling me they got the info from my insurance company and had a reservation in the system. All I needed to do was call the body shop of my choice, notify them when I would be dropping off the car, and a rental would be waiting for me.

I called the body shop last week to inform them when I’d be dropping off the car. When I got to the body shop Enterprise told me they did not have the reservation in the “local branch system.” Not only that, they also had zero cars in the class of vehicle to which my insurance rental coverage pays. They had 1 car – yes, only 1 car – at the entire location. When I asked the employee what happened, and how they are totally out of cars but still accepting reservations, the response I got was less than stellar…

“Well we have no cars, this is all I have, I can’t do anything about it. You can take this car and we can switch you out into another when we get one back, but not sure when.”

As I needed to get to a meeting and had limited time, I told him fine, I’ll just exchange it a location near my home or office. I was then informed all other locations in my local area are also out of cars. Last I checked they are a rental car company, and after checking the website have almost a dozen branches within a 15 mile radius of my location, so how is it they have zero cars?

On my way back to the office I decided to check for myself, so I stopped at another branch. I told the employee the situation, explained how the reservation was a direct bill from my insurance company, and how my reservation was apparently lost in the system even though I received a confirmation – and that I want to swap vehicles. The employee points to a women sitting in the waiting areas and says…

“Well this lady has been waiting over an hour for a car. I’m sorry sir, but we have nothing, the branch you rented from isn’t even the same branch area as us.”

When I asked him how this was possible and what would happen if the rental I have broke down, he told me…

“Well I don’t know, I just know it shows the region is low on cars. If something went wrong with the vehicle I’d have to make some calls for you. We just don’t have anything. You can call the local branch manager and I’m sure she’d do everything she can to work with you.”

That wasn’t an answer to my question nor a resolution to my problem. My customer service issue was not resolved.

Now – was this employee polite? Sure he was nice enough; however, he was also as clueless as the previous employee as to what process to follow to resolve customer concerns! I don’t fault the employee for my poor customer experience but I do fault Enterprise.

Interactions with 2 employees, at 2 locations, within the same day and neither had the training or authority to resolve my concerns. Even the lady in the waiting area who overheard me stopped me to tell me “…you know, you’re right. This is ridiculous. I had the same issue. I’m stranded here and waiting over an hour for a car. I’d never rent from them if I had a choice.”

Why do poor processes matter?

Sometimes we have a poor experience with customer service because of the person we are interacting with – because they’re rude or non attentive. That’s not something a business can always predict or control. In those cases you can fault the business to an extent –  though bad apples exist everywhere.

But what about a poor customer experience due to poor processes, poor communication, or poor training – not due to any attitude of the employee? In cases of these process type issues, the fault lies with the business. And these types of issues have just as much of an impact on customer experience, brand loyalty and revenues, as a rude and unattentive employee. I’m with the lady in the waiting room – I would never rent from Enterprise if I had a choice (and I even get a discount!)

Poor customer service leads to loss of new customers, damage to reputation, increased employee turnover, and reduction in revenues. Customer acquisition isn’t cheap – customer retention is a better way to go.

Improving customer service – by providing clearly defined and easily understandable processes and training – offers many organizations a bigger return on investment.

processHow can Enterprise and other businesses resolve these type of issues?

Technology – Now, I’m not sure what their current process is for reservations nor how their technology systems communicate with insurance companies technology systems. I do know, however, from conversations with employees, the system they use is mostly homegrown and outdated. I also know that making a reservation myself on their website is fairly easy. Investing in upgraded technology that can communicate better with external systems – and offering proper training to employees – would certainly help to elevate some of the reservation and vehicle location related issues that impact customer service.

Educate – Though the employees were polite, at both locations they stared at me with a blank stare and a “duh” face when I asked what caused the region to run out of vehicles, how they lost my reservation, and how they planned to resolve my concerns. The blank stare was because they didn’t know – they were not trained on what processes to follow to resolve such customer service related issues.  If processes do exist for customer resolution – make them simple to understand and follow and educate customer facing employees on how to execute such processes. If processes don’t exist, then allow for customer and employee feedback mechanisms to help create such new processes.

Accountability –  Regardless if poor customer service is related to lack of processes, lack of training on processes, overly complex processes or poor understanding of current processes – make sure someone is accountable to the customer. I’m not talking about people who are assigned to respond to complaints via social media – if a person is voicing a concern via social media then the issue has already gone unresolved during an interaction with an employee. Assign a voice and a face to the customer for such concerns at point of the initial interaction. Make sure those folks have the skills, training, and authority to resolve such issues.

Process related customer service issues have already impacted my experience with Enterprise. I’ve shared that experience with my insurance company who is a large customer of theirs – and by the way has a “customer advocacy” department. I’ve also shared my experience via word of mouth and social media – reaching even further. Will this have a negative impact in their revenues – probably not – but it doesn’t help either. Social chatter is a powerful tool. Just ask U.S. Airways.

Not all businesses have the market share of Enterprise and can afford for such inefficiencies negatively impacting their customer experience. Developing streamlined and easily understandable processes, and training customer facing employees on how to follow them to create a positive customer experience, is a great step toward creating a positive customer experience. A great customer experience results in increased brand loyalty, reduction in customer acquisition costs, and increased profits!

How do your processes impact your customer service? And how do you rate against your competitors?  

*Note: When I called back the branch manager to whom the 2nd employee refereed me to, I was put on hold for 5 mins. I’m already a dissatisfied customer and that didn’t help. I had also left her a vmail earlier in the day which went unreturned. However, when I told her the issue she said…

“…well I’m not sure why they keep referring people to call me. If you want to do a switch out I’m happy to try and take care of it. You can bring the car by tomorrow and we’ll put you in another of the right size. We’re located at a different location.”

Again, the employee was polite. But, she doesn’t even know why in her current role her colleagues are referring dissatisfied customers to her – though she did mention multiple dissatisfied customers being referred. She also mentioned I need to bring the vehicle to her branch  location, further away than the original one I rented from, if I want a new vehicle. Though this resolves the issue of me getting the proper class vehicle to which I had a reservation it really doesn’t resolve my poor customer experience – nor the process issues that lead to that experience.  The damage is already done and it is too late to try and undo it – prevention of process related poor customer service related issues should be an imperative.

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions - an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm.  He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing  people –> performance –> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

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