Is bad customer service always the representative’s fault?

We’ve all had bad customer service experiences. In the moment, it’s easy to blame the representative we’re dealing with. Certainly, in some cases, they are the reason the experience didn’t meet expectations. However, if we sit back and evaluate some of our most frustrating service experiences, we might find it wasn’t the representatives fault at all. In fact, we might remember them saying something like:

  • “That’s the best I can do.”
  • “I’m not authorized to do that.”
  • “My manager said that’s all we can offer you.”
  • “I’m the manager, and that’s just our policy. Sorry.”

What’s lurking underneath these oh-so-common responses we hear in one form or another? After an experience I had with a car dealership, the answer became apparent: it was the system’s fault. The system was set up in a way that did not empower its employees to take action or creatively solve problems.

Let’s take a look at my example of the system not serving, then see what I learned as a result.

The issue.

The frustration set in as I was sitting in my new 2016 Ram 2500, and it would not start.  After trying to start it several times, I called the local dealer where I purchased the truck a few months prior, certain they would be of service. They referred me to the 800 roadside assistance number for a tow. The tow truck driver informs me the battery connections are not installed correctly and are vibrating loose. He recommends I get to the dealer to have them installed correctly or replaced. Easy enough.

When I called back into the dealership, they informed me I need to call in prior to noon to ensure my car is seen in the same day. I understood that logic, so I said, “No problem. I will grab a loaner and be good to go.” The young lady on the other end shared they would not have loaners until Thursday. That didn’t work for me, so I decided to drive up to the dealership, hoping the battery connections stayed intact.

The bad service.

After asking around, I was finally directed to someone who would be able to help me. We’ll call her Susie. I explain my situation to Susie, just as I’ve explained it to you. She just looked at me and explains they cannot look at it today. I stood there looking at her. She continued to explain it was months’ end, and they had to meet some numbers so could not take on new work. (Side note: I used to sell and service vehicles early on in my career, so I am very familiar with month end realities).

I took a deep breath and explained it was a safety issue, and I needed to be on the road across town early the next day. She jumped in with a bit of excitement and said there was a dealer in Katy, so I could take it there.

“Do you understand how that suggestion landed on my side?” I asked her, astonished by her response. When she doesn’t answer, I continue. “First of all, I purchased the truck from this dealership. Second, I have a safety concern and am wondering how we will handle it if/when I am in or the cause of an accident that hurts or kills someone? “ What do you think the odds are this concern will be addressed any differently in Katy than they are here? Don’t they have the same “month end” challenges you all are facing?”

I watched her face as she realized the situation from another point of view. I felt for her - it was becoming evident the system she was working within had not offered her the opportunity to be a partner in helping me resolve my concern.  Eventually, Susie called her boss, asking him to come to the front. Instead, he deferred her to one of the service techs in valet, which she didn’t seem encouraged by. She looked back up at me and shared what she could do. I thank her and proceeded with the suggestion.

Sure enough, the valet tech confirmed what the tow driver told me, then took it back to get it fixed. Within no time, he’d finished, informing me had I not had it addressed, it would have been a big safety concern. I thanked everyone involved in helping me actually solve the problem, and left.

The takeaway.

As I ponder this experience, I am reminded of so many systems we create to help improve flow, productivity, and performance. In that very process, we often sacrifice service to the very people who are the reason we are there doing the work we have the honor to do.

Susie seemed as though she desired to help me, and she did not know where to look for the help. Had I not stuck with it, as most people don’t, she would not have broken out of her story of why she couldn’t help me. This systemic problem affects all of us at all levels. I am sure her experience with me was not a pleasant one; though I did not yell or become disrespectful in any way, I did not go away. As a result, her discomfort became more and more apparent.

Here are some questions worth exploring:

  • What if Susie knew the company mission and was empowered to act toward it?
  • We Hear You”, showing the XXX Automotive Group’s commitment to customers and giving them an exceptional experience.
  • What If there was peer to peer accountability?
  • Susie and her coworkers could have come together to assist me rather than toss me from one to the other.
  • What if they had a high level of accountability across all functions that was at the service of each other AND their customers?

I most likely would not have heard about what they couldn’t do, rather what they could.

I know a lot has been written about the demise of customer service in our culture. I am proposing that the people on the front line could and should be empowered to serve their customers and team mates in a way that is solution focused and holds the relationships as paramount.  We love our “Brilliance Model” at Trybal, which says:

It’s my job is to make sure I am making every member of my team look as brilliant as they are.

When we are doing that for others there are many others doing it for us, no CYA needed.


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