Across industries, fully 81% of all customers attempt to take care of matters themselves before reaching out to a live representative. When a customer calls your customer service people need to be empowered to help them solve their problems, and solve them quickly.
When I had a problem with my Direct TV bill I spent ten minutes on the phone trying to explain why my previous call with customer service had not been entered into their database. I told them that either they credit my account for the dispute or say goodbye to me as a customer. It took over thirty minutes for me to get the problem put to bed. This is not good customer service even though they thanked me for being a good customer for many years.
According to Harvard Business Review “frontline service reps get increasingly tough customers—the issues customers can’t solve on their own . And today’s reps are struggling with these complex problems. As one service leader at a large retailer admitted to us, “Our people are woefully ill-equipped to handle today’s customers and their issues. We’re not running a contact center here. It’s more like a factory of sadness.”
CEB data from more than 100,000 customers worldwide shows that interactions with service reps are four times likelier to lead to customer disloyalty than to loyalty . So, as we’ve argued elsewhere (see the “Further Reading” box), companies should focus on sparing customers grief rather than trying to delight them with over-the- top service. Here are some suggestions:
Improve self-service tools.
Customers may not need live help if self-service channels are simple and intuitive . That doesn’t have to mean big investments in new technologies. A leading credit card company, for instance, designed an interactive tool that customers see as soon as they visit the support website. The tool asks two questions about the reason for their visit and then guides them to the optimal channel for solving the matter. This approach helped cut interactions via e-mail (a particularly high-cost and low-satisfaction channel) by a third.
Preempt repeat calls
Don’t obsess about resolving customer issues in a single phone call or email; instead, concentrate on “next-issue avoidance .” Customers often recontact companies when the x for their original problem creates a new concern. So be proactive: Help with whatever people call about, but also address issues they’re apt to call back about. One of our clients, a utility provider, texts customers with status updates about how it’s handling their issues—a strategy that prevents repeat calls to check on work-order progress.
Use “experience engineering”
Another effective strategy involves training Frontline representatives to shape people’s perceptions of the customer service experience. For example, you can teach your team how to use language to influence customers’ reactions to disappointing answers or proposed solutions. Consider the cable operator whose subscribers were annoyed to be given an eight- hour service window for next-day repairs. Today the company’s reps make that all- day window more palatable by using another option: a two-hour window in three business days. Faced with a slower response, the vast majority of customers gladly take the eight-hour window.
1ne: Empower your customer service people to solve problems of your customers not to be empathetic.
2wo: Your customer service people should be among your best trained and most loyal employees. Reward them as valuable company assets by increasing their salaries and giving them ample time off.
3hree: Ensure that marketing people meet with customer service people on a regular basis to understand problems with brand touch points. There should also be a system in place to ensure that urgent issues are moved before decision makers as soon as possible.
4our: Standard customer service is not acceptable. First, you need to allow customers to try and solve their own problems online quickly. Second, constant improvement is an absolute necessity.