By David Bates

Does your business actively promote a particular standard of customer service? 

Published Customer Service Charters or Service Commitment brochures are everywhere these days and, for the most part, that’s a good thing. But here’s a free tip: if your organisation consistently provides appallingly bad service, don’t waste time drafting and promoting a ‘Service Charter’ that isn’t worth the paper its written on.

Take the Fair Work Commission for example.

Australia’s national employment relations tribunal - which is still reeling from the embarrassing Michael Lawler sick leave debacle – promotes a well-written ‘Service Charter’ on its website

According to this Charter, Commission staff will provide a service which is:

  • informative, accurate and timely
  • prompt, courteous and respectful
  • professional and helpful.

In a subsequent section (optimistically entitled Service Excellence), the Charter states:

“Commission staff will work to provide high quality service—it will be timely, accurate and consistent.

If you contact us by telephone, email or online, we will respond to your inquiry promptly. If we are unable to respond to your inquiry immediately, we will advise you when you can expect a response. If your inquiry is received outside of our normal office hours, your contact will be logged and attended to the next working day.”

I’m assuming the people who drafted the Charter have never actually tried calling or emailing the Commission. As someone who routinely interacts with Commission staff, here’s just a small snapshot of my recent experiences:

- The Commission refuses to publish the direct contact details for each Commissioner’s office. According to the advisor I spoke with on their main 1300 number, this is because staff don’t want ‘every man and his dog’ calling (I assume by ‘every man and his dog’ she actually meant taxpayer). Sound ‘courteous’ or ‘helpful’ to you?

- Speaking of the 1300 number, try giving it a call sometime. After you’ve listened to the seemingly endless recording and made selections from the touchtone options, you’ll often end up being put through to an answering machine. Of the four voicemails I’ve left on various occasions in the past three months, only one return call was ever received. Sound ‘prompt’ or ‘timely’ to you?

- And then there are the associates who work for the Commissioners. While many are exceedingly professional and diligent, there are some who clearly missed the memo about the Commission’s commitment to customer service. 

Take, for example, the associate who recently ended their email to me with this sentence:

“Please note that we will not be entering into any further correspondence…and the matter is closed.”

Hmmm, not quite the ‘professional’ and ‘helpful’ email the Service Charter promises!

Or how about the associate who, a fortnight ago, sent highly sensitive employee-related information (which had been marked ‘confidential’) to the other side in a contentious unfair dismissal case. One of her colleagues had to immediately step in to prevent the material being used maliciously, but the associate who made the mistake didn’t even think it necessary to apologise. Sound ‘accurate’ or ‘courteous’ to you.

The commission’s Service Charter should, quite simply, be taken off their website unless and until all commission staff are able to provide the standard of service Australian employers and employees not only expect and deserve, but which the Commission itself promises.