April 1 2008 by Ellen Roseman
I’m still hearing from people who moan, groan and jawbone about customer service at Bell Canada. But I think the flood is receding — at least a little.
Bell’s senior management knows it has to improve customer service. This is a corporate priority that will go ahead, no matter what happens with the new ownership. The progress may be imperceptible, but it’s there.
Kevin Crull, president of residential services at Bell, assumed the job of placating me and my readers last year. He made himself accessible at all hours, quick to send emails to customers who felt unloved and unimportant. Since we never met before, I looked forward to our get-together earlier this month at his Bay Street office.
“We have 30 priorities across a $5 billion business. Half are related to elements of service delivery and improvement,” he told me, reflecting his fascination with numbers, measurements and statistics.
Fixing billing is prominent on his list — thank goodness, because that’s the biggest complaint I get from my readers. Many are convinced that Bell overbills everyone a few cents or a few dollars a month just to pad its profits. I’m more inclined to blame incompetence and a multitude of older computer systems that don’t talk to each other.
Because of all the bungling, some people have lost faith in Bell’s integrity. “I don’t doubt we’ve squandered some of that trust,” Crull says at one point. (Later, he asks me not to use the quote. But I don’t let senior executives go off the record after they’ve said something.)
“Another area that gives me hope is that despite what we feel is a consistent burden of complaints, escalations have gone down dramatically,” he says. “In the fourth quarter, escalated complaints were down by 37 per cent. We’re really headed in the right direction.”
This could be a result of better training for call centre staff. If they can resolve things at their level, customers don’t need to ask for a supervisor or manager. Crull points to a fairly new policy that allows customer service reps to “go off the clock” when handling a thorny problem. Their pay and ratings won’t be dragged down by spending too much time with one caller.
He also talks about hiring people with the right DNA. What does this mean? They have empathy and don’t talk like robots. They can solve problems using their own judgment. They can sense when customers are irate and refrain from upselling another product or service.
So, here’s my challenge to Bell. If you’re changing and improving, tell your customers so. And back up the rhetoric with some kind of meaningful guarantee. You know what I mean:
–Wait five minutes on the line for service and get a $5 credit on your bill.
–Complain three times about the same problem and get the next three months’ service free.
–Report two no-shows by a Bell technician and pay nothing for your installation.
How about it, Bell? Are you ready yet to tell the public you’re back in the game? Let’s see you turn those jeers to cheers with a charm campaign.