N Touch
Thursday 21 March 2019
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A fierce frustration

ANGER, ANNOYANCE and frustration are a growing reality of everyday life in TT and it finds a particularly sharp edge of expression in customer service interactions.

So there was much to empathise with in the story of Terrance Gangaram, who kicked a glass door at the National Insurance Board’s offices in San Fernando and shattered it.

Gangaram wasn’t happy with being told that his claims were being denied by the NIB after he was chopped in the head and robbed of his belongings at his home.

To his credit, Gangaram, appearing before Magistrate Natalie Diop, was remorseful and apologetic about his outburst and the court seemed inclined to discuss the matter further, asking him to produce his medical records before sentencing.

There’s no indication that Terrance Gangaram was treated poorly by customer service representatives (CSRs) at the NIB, but at every level of the private and public sectors there are horror stories of mismanaged workflows, time-wasting miscommunication and posted information in offices that’s simply wrong.

In a letter to Newsday in January, a frustrated correspondent complained of a cable company’s inability “to indulge in a common-sense conversation with the public.”

Calls to the company to notify them that their lines were drooping into the roadway resulted in an object lesson in poor customer service and engagement. A call to the company was rudely ended by the business when requests for contact and account numbers, irrelevant to the notification call, were declined.

The service vehicle that eventually responded parked in a driveway, the technician refused to speak with anyone and stuffed the discarded cable in a resident’s garbage bin instead of removing it to be properly disposed of.

In an interview with Newsday last month, Dawn Richards, who specialises in customer care transformation, explained, “We have an extremely lackadaisical approach to service here because we’ve never had to be connected to service. We’ve had oil. We’ve had gas. Products that basically serve themselves.”

Richards plans a national consultation to encourage conversation about the issue in September.

Despite what she describes as “the multiple ways in which customers present themselves,” the key to effective customer service remains respect.

For CSRs, respect for the time, dignity and intelligence of their customers is probably the best place to start.

Customers in turn should respect the challenges that CSRs face all day and engage the process with composure and clarity.

The saying which insists that the customer is always right remains true in vigorously competitive commercial environments, but driving it into reality in the public service, where there is no competition for services, remains a significant challenge in governance.

Clearly there needs to be more compassion and patience on both sides of the counter when business meets the public.

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