Equifax’s Customer Service Conundrum

avatar

My Dad, much to his dismay, was frequently the last to know anything of importance in our family. Though not always intentional, he was often left in the dark about conflicts, injuries, or broken housewares until long after they were resolved, healed or clandestinely replaced. He, according to my Mom, was usually on a need-to-know basis for these things and as was the case with many of these formative-years events, he didn’t need to know.

And hey, it worked. Once he realized that the incident in question was no longer an issue, he had little reason to be upset other than to complain that he was always the last to know anything. Which brings me to Equifax customer service.

Now that may seem like a tough take and its always so very easy playing the armchair quarterback in customer service situations gone sideways. So, I’m going to try and just state the fact without getting judgmental. To get you up to speed, here’s the situation:

143 million people or nearly two out of three American adults with a credit file were impacted by the Equifax data breach that occurred earlier this month. Many people have been scrambling to see if their data has been exposed or worse yet, if their credit/identity has been compromised. And scramble is the operative word here.

If you can, put aside the issue of how the data was so easily breached, and the fact that knowledge of the incident was kept under wraps for a month aside. The issue at hand for this audience is that Equifax’s customer service employees were put in the didn’t-need-to-know category during the early days after the incident became public.

Security breach

A colleague of an editor at Fast Company tried calling into the credit agency’s customer service department to see if their credit information had been impacted. They response was surprising:

‘“No, we haven’t received any news about [the breach],” the supervisor said. “I’ll take note of this,” she added, “this ‘massive hack’ that you’re referring to.”‘

Then just yesterday, Equifax’s Twitter account unknowingly sent out links to a fake site pretending to be Equifax but was actually set up to criticize how the company handled the situation.

If you happened to be charged with the responsibility of a company’s or organizations customer service, or you provide the solutions that help deliver that customer service, or you happen to be a consultant, advisor or analyst in the customer experience space, you know how vital the function is to the brand. And the Equifax incident lays this bare.

Customer service creates, builds and sustains customer loyalty. And conversely, poor or let’s say poorly-equipped customer service hinders, prevents, and erodes a relationship a company is trying to have with a customer. Customer service is almost always where we will turn to in times like the Equifax situation and in these times brand trust hangs in the balance. We turn there when “we” have a problem that collectively needs to be addressed.

A 2016 research study from Georgia State University on winning back customers, found that customers who stopped doing business with a company because of price were more likely to return to that company versus a customer who leaves because of poor customer service. In other words, overcoming a customer’s substandard service experience is a harder, longer road back than offering a discount to  the price-minded departed.

Therefore, a well-trained, well-coached and well-informed operation responds by acknowledging the issue and having at the ready, the solution steps available at that time that will put that customer on the path to resolution. The not-so-well trained and the uninformed customer service operation isn’t even aware there is an issue. So, when a customer recognizes that a brand’s customer service is not in the need-to-know, they’ll quickly figure out that it’s time to go.