Customer service. What a positive and optimistic-sounding phrase – who could take exception to that? But the reality is far less pleasing. Commonly associated with frustration, seemingly never-ending phone calls, sad and monotonous on-hold theme tunes and endless episodes of being passed from one advisor to another, at the end of which your problem is still unresolved.
One might think that some companies have spent years perfecting the art of demoralising their customers and making them feel like a nuisance, as though there is an annual prize for the worst customer service. The following strategies will certainly guarantee a first prize in this competition for the wooden spoon. But to prevent these worse case scenarios, I’ll also offer some tips on achieving better customer service and keeping your customers happy.
1. Jumping from one agent to the next
“Hang on a moment – I’ll put you through to someone who can help you.”
Sound familiar? Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if you ended up actually speaking to a capable person who can resolve your problem quickly. However, more often than not the agent is not the right person. How is a service agent supposed to know who is really an expert on the topic in question?
Before you know it, you know the names of every agent’s children, one season is giving way to another outside and the problem, of course, is still unresolved. How nice it would be if you could simply give a brief explanation of the issue at the outset and then be transferred directly through to the person who can help you. It’s not a difficult task – it’s simply a case of documenting these incoming queries internally and setting up a suitable system for routing calls.
2. Callback? No chance!
“I can’t do anything more for you at the moment. Please try again tomorrow.”
“Couldn’t you call me back when you have an answer?”
“No, I’m afraid we can’t do that.”
I’m not joking: this conversation has actually taken place. What a fascinating technological step backwards! The poor customer service agent is obviously battling with a telephone system that can only handle incoming calls. Not only does this reflect poorly on the company, the customer ends up having to initiate contact themselves in order to resolve the issue. In fact, it would be so easy for the company to send a brief email or get in touch with the customer through another communication channel.
3. Time is ticking
“Unfortunately all our advisors are busy at the moment. Please hold and you will be put through to the next available agent…”, followed by music – for the next half hour.
Keeping people on hold is one of the easiest ways to give rise to customer frustration. Time is precious and waiting forever and a day is not an option in the fast-paced world we live in. When a customer advisor eventually comes on the line asking “How can I help you?”, the customer has already passed from mild dissatisfaction to a state of bloodlust.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. With so many alternatives available, the problem of waiting endlessly on hold could be a thing of the past. Today, it is often quicker and more convenient to use chat, email, Twitter and Facebook or guiding customers to Internet help pages rather than hanging on the line.
After all, in private many people prefer to use Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger rather than speak to agents on the phone. Why not introduce the Messenger principle to your customer service strategy? Simply send a tweet or post a Facebook message, get a helpful answer a minute or two later and its goodbye to time-sapping calls.
4. It’s the fault of ‘the system’, or another advisor – or both
“I spoke to another advisor last week – they were going to look into it.”
“I’m afraid I can’t find anything about it in the system – something must have gone wrong there.”
But of course it is always the other advisor who has got things wrong. On the basis of collective private empiricism, we are forced to assume that every customer service agent has at least one colleague who never notes anything ’in the system’. The corollary of that is that no agent ever records anything anywhere.
Alternatively, it means that ‘the system’ is not fit for purpose and is unable to save information for more than three days. We shall probably never discover the truth. Given that extremely easy-to-use customer service tools are available – ones that even agents without touch-typing qualifications can use productively – it is incomprehensible how often information seems to disappear.
5. Repetition, repetition, repetition
“Please give me your customer number.”
“But I’ve just given it to your colleague.”
“I’m sorry, I need it again.”
The theory is often voiced that this familiar line of conversation is a rudimentary intelligence test. Anyone who fails to repeatedly read off a number – that feels as though it is at least 20 digits long –from their last bill is out of the game. Even if you pass this initial test, there is more to come. You also have to keep repeating your problem to each successive advisor that you are put through to and never getting a proper answer.
And yet it is so easy for companies to use an internal database that all members of staff can access and save all customer-related information. Wouldn’t it be nice to be recognised by customer service without having to go over everything repeatedly?
6. Honest feedback? No, forget it.
“I hope I have been of assistance.”
If we’re honest, who responds to this comment by saying “no, you haven’t been and I shall now tell you exactly why and what you could do better”? And yet that is what we should do. There actually are companies that want to learn from their mistakes in order to improve. Why then do we so seldom have a realistic opportunity to give feedback that is brief, to the point and honest? It can easily be done via a link in an email.
The simple question “would you recommend our company to other people?” can achieve a lot. We, the customers, can then explain in a brief comment what we liked and what we didn’t. This means companies give us a voice while also helping themselves improve what isn’t good and to share what is, either internally or externally. After all, everyone likes to receive praise. That leaves unanswered the question of why companies so rarely make use of the opportunity to receive feedback.