Customer service and dealing with a less than perfect system

It seems everyone has a story about Centrelink. My encounter of customer service to talk about was working with my adult son who attempted to load some documentation, as directed, onto their website. I’d like to think I am reasonably tech savvy having worked with computers and various databases and interfaces over the years. I worked with him for over an hour and half encountering error messages, issues of passwords, messages of we are encountering high traffic, to have you tried the new myGov website  as an alternative to the Centrelink website. All frustrating and no mission accomplished so made a time to go to face Centrelink in the flesh.

Surprisingly we had a comparatively short wait before we talked to someone at the front desk. When starting to explain the frustrations and encounters we were told oh well it is the end of the financial year so there are system errors. And oh we are changing websites so you have to expect some problems, and the ultimate… oh.. the documents you were trying to load have to be cited as originals at the counter so you would have had to come in anyway… do you have the originals with you? At this point as my heart sank and I tried to keep my cool and not dare to stop this magical flow of customer service stating, I thought initially calmly, but then I could see myself getting frustrated and might stop the flow of customer service and cause problems stating: Why was it not stated on the website that we couldn’t and shouldn’t be wasting our time to load these documents, even though we were directed to? Why should we put up with online computer frustration just because it is a new website and end of financial year? Why is your computer interface so customer unfriendly when surely you are dealing with people who are, I would guess, far less computer savvy than myself and no doubt get far more irate and frustrated with the system than myself?

Anyway at the end of our encounter we got our forms lodged and were then given a special linking code to allow for linking from mygov website to Centrelink. We then spent another quarter hour on the premises setting up this link which again, even with the magical assistance of some of the staff, was less than straight forward or perfect. An encounter of needing other passwords, and signage on the websites requiring a code which were in fact existing customer numbers which we did not know but were informed about it by the “friendly” assisting staff.

On reflection with all my years of customer service training it made me reflect on how, when we know our systems are less than perfect, do we really think before we speak? In this encounter when I was ranting a bit I wonder if the person I was dealing with really thought by saying such things as end of financial year, and failings of their website, that this would really make me as the customer feel any better? If when you get in the mind set of being in part of the less than perfect system do you just give the pat answers and use an element of authority to shut down any sympathy to the customer? Is it a kind of self-preservation to just do your job? Is it to perpetuate the bad press of the business to add to another one of those bad Centrelink stories for people to talk about?

It makes you wonder, and then when relaying these encounters to a couple of colleagues it made me think and reflect and apply to some aspects of my workplace too. Are there some elements we just put up with? We give the pat answers of it is just a new system, teething problems, a busy time of the year. I guess we are all guilty of at times giving less than good customer service when we are just doing our job, aware of the issues of the system, not always prepared to give the sympathy or extra support to people’s frustrations. When it is the umpteenth person complaining about the online encounter are we less than prepared to state that we will raise that, AGAIN, with the powers that be to pass on your concerns. Do we just point to the complaint box or fob the person off to say you can fill in a customer complaint form. Have we lost our edge with the transfer to online service to be less than sympathetic with a less than perfect system?

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