Broken/Stukkend 4 : receiving e-mail from customers

Picture by Wikimedia user Bidgee
A friend's frustrating attempts at correspondence with Telstra, Australia's lumbering telecoms giant, has galvanised me to reprise my occasional series about customer service. He has been finding it impossible to get any reaction from Telstra about his serious billing problem by e-mail and his calls to their “customer service” numbers are simply terminating in Tagalog or Cantonese voicemail promts. The e-mail channel consists of a web-based form that allows the customer to enter 200 characters ‒ hardly sufficient for describing a real complaint.

I myself have recently had Standard Bank, “a leader in banking technology in South Africa” which is busy “ensuring the highest standards of professionalism, integrity, and fairness” ask me to resend a 18-month old message to which they had assigned the reference number 1955721, since although they have not yet replied to it, they reportedly no longer have it. If anyone from Standard Bank is reading this and cares to refute the alleged loss of the message, please post a comment below.

Why are many companies so terribly bad at replying to e-mail? My conjecture is that the inappropriate pricing model (free at the point of delivery) of e-mail is partly to blame. Postal mail and a telephone call to a service center both require the supplicant to invest time and money in lodging the enquiry. Of course, an e-mail also requires time but not as much as holding for 30 minutes for the call centre. With telephonic customer service, any unmatched demand for service simply disappears as customers hang up when they are tired of waiting. E-mailed enquiries pile up, and much faster than postal mail. Why not automatically return unhandled queries or unopened e-mail messages, flagged appropriately, to the sender after a week (say) has expired?

To my surprise, I have recently had the South African Post Office reply to a message within 48 hours. The Hong Kong Post Office took a week to respond to a similar query. Kudos to the SAPO for this! On the other hand, I am still waiting for a reply to my e-mail of 20 September to CustomerCare@virginmobile.co.za and have all but lost hope. I am reminded of a remark by Niels Kjellerup of the Call Centre Manager's Forum in a recent BNet podcast:
“outsourcing [of call centres] is only for those businesses who don’t care about customers.”
He went on to explain that these are typically businesses which have customers tied up in a contract and really do not need to provide anything resembling reasonable service. I tend to agree.

Earlier posts in this series

Broken/Stukkend 1 : in QLD's “captial” city
Broken/Stukkend 2 : DSTV se rekeninge-afdeling
Broken/Stukkend 3 : SARS eFiling's e-mail

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