Customer retention is one of the key goals of companies regardless of their size because it is much simpler and less expensive to keep a customer than it is to attract a new one. As a result, many corporations use rewards programs to encourage their existing base to continue to use their services. Unfortunately, many of these same companies forget that a prime motivator in customer loyalty is the level of confidence in the ability and willingness of the company to fix errors. A service provider that swiftly resolves issues is one step above any of its competitors. As I experienced on my recently-completed trip to Los Angeles, a company not only needs to have consumer-driven attitude but allow customers access to its personnel.
On this trip, unavoidably complicated by Covid, I required transportation, banking and medical testing purposes. The issues ranged from contacting representatives, sorting out confusion and receiving timely answers. The results ranged from absolutely atrocious to excellent with the key predictor being the ease of accessing a flesh-and-blood person. Where I was able to reach human beings, they easily resolved all issues while where no contact was possible, no solution was possible.
On the negative side, both Lyft and Uber use applications that do function well when all elements are in alignment but do not provide any access to a human operator when the application fails. In the former case, I was eventually able to “chat” online with a representative, who was able to explain why I needed to enter an additional credit card. In any case, the second time I tried to order a cab from their service, it was again unavailable. As for Uber, it somehow knew that I translated Russian and kept on sending me error messages in Russian, without any solutions or ways of contacting a representative. The medical testing lab situation was a greater disaster. I took a Covid test almost three full days before my flight via Walgreen’s pharmacy, which uses LabCorp to conduct the test. In practice, I had to postpone the flight because the results arrived four days after I provided the sample. What exasperated the situation was the fact that Walgreen had no knowledge of the results once it passed on the sample to the lab while LabCorp provided no contact phone number, only allowing email contact, to which it did not respond. I was thus unable to attain any update. I felt like an insignificant number. All these negative experiences involve the complete lack of ability to reach a human representative.
By contrast, I had excellent interactions and results with those companies whose systems allowed for direct conversation. After making an appointment with Chase Bank, I managed to solve several complicated banking and credit issues that had seemed deadlocked in my long-distance conversations. When I called L.A. Cab, to my great surprise and their credit, I talked with a scheduler, who immediately told me when the cab would arrive. While the response staff of United Airlines is understaffed, as are many of the airlines, I was able to talk with representatives, both in person and via the telephone, and twice reschedule my flight at no extra cost. Finally, at LAX, the young staff of the Corona testing guided me through the complicated process (for people over 50) of signing up for the Covid test, with the negative result arriving in a few hours. Thanks to these people and the companies that allowed them to talk to the customers, I know that that I can count on them in the future.
The lesson to all service providers, great and small, is that while customers may or may not remember their loyalty bonuses, they never forget the treatment they received when they did request services. As omnipresent and omnipotent digital services may seem, most customers want and require human responses when problems occur. If a company provides them, they have won the heart of the customer. After all, as Abraham Lincoln probably would not say, good service is for and by people.
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