When your customers contact your customer service team, are they already angry?
“We live in a culture that has trained customers to start on the offensive just to get good service…Often, you don’t get to talk to a manager or someone with authority to solve your problem unless you say a curse word.”
This is, sadly, the case for many organizations. Consider companies with which you do business in your personal or business life. If something goes wrong and you need help, what happens? How do you find that help? And how do you feel by the time you call or send them an email? I’m going to venture a guess that by the time you make that contact, you’ve tried a number of things—to no avail—and are pretty angry.
In fact, a recent report (“Duck and Cover: More Customers Are Experiencing Rage”) on customer rage shows “customer satisfaction over a company’s ability to solve a complaint is no higher today than it was in the 1970s” and “customer dissatisfaction over complaint resolution has increased eight points in the past two years.”
This culture of anger is the result of a widely practiced approach to helping customers that is designed to lower costs for the company. This approach is also thought to improve the speed of resolution, but it often just creates bad experiences.
The practice is one of self-help or community driven help (the latter being very common in the technology business). Companies will try to figure out what most customers need help with and then post those issues on their websites in some form of FAQ. The assumption is that most people will go there, find the answer, and solve their problem. The advantage for the company is there is zero marginal cost to help each customer.
The second step of this practice is a community driven approach. The company will form some sort of online forum and allow customers to post questions and answer each other’s questions. The underlying assumption is that someone else has had the problem before and can help solve it.
This is not a zero cost approach, as many companies also have customer service team members watching the forums, adding comments and solutions and, sometimes, looking for common problems or requests that can point to product improvements. But it is a very low-cost approach to helping customers. And it puts a big onus on customers to seek and provide their own support.
The next step is to contact someone at the company on a customer service team. While a few companies don’t provide any direct contact capability, most do, either by telephone or email.
But by the time the customer reaches that point, they have probably tried to solve it through the other two methods, maybe had some unpleasant exchanges with forum members or employees, and have probably been forced to search the FAQs repeatedly to try to solve the problem on their own.
In other words, they’re angry.
Four things you can do to avoid this:
1. Stop making it us vs. them.
When your customer contacts you and is frustrated, angry or worse, it’s your customer service team’s job to take the company’s side. However, your rep should take away the need to take sides at all. The conversation should never be about what the customer wants vs. what the company will do.
The only conversation your customer service team should have with your customer is about the result they need to achieve and how they can help the customer get there. If every interaction is not designed around that idea, your customers will see your customer service team and your company as “against” them, and they will get even angrier.
2. Know why your customers are getting angry.
Don’t just ask. Measure. Don’t be biased by the loudest and angriest customers (perpetuating your contribution to the anger culture), but look at all your customer interactions and know why escalations happen.
Once you identify points of frustration, you can act to intervene. Depending on the issue, you can post simple solutions on your help pages or accelerate personal contact when a particular issue is raised. The better you get at directing more of your customers to their desired outcome, the happier your customers will be.
3. Learn your customers’ interaction preferences.
Some of us like to talk through our issues with someone. Others like to do research and solve it themselves.
Do you know what your customers prefer? Are you providing it? Or are you making assumptions that result in more escalations than needed?
Talk to your colleagues in marketing, and steal one idea. Ask who is good at developing what marketing people call “personas,” and create the ones you need. Figure out how to identify what type of problem solver each customer is and what you need to deliver to have them walk away happy.
4. Be honest.
If your customer has a problem, you have a problem. It doesn’t matter if it might be their fault. If you don’t eliminate your rep’s need to take sides and help your customer get the outcome they need, it’s going to be your problem, one way or another.
When you have a problem, admit it (“yes, I can see how the instructions are not that clear about that”). Show understanding. If it’s not your fault, help your customer get past it. If it is, be direct and just fix it.
When your customer service reps get to the point of quoting warranty limits, user agreements and company policy, you have lost — not just the conversation, but the customer — and you can kiss repeat business goodbye.
Are you already doing some of these? Are they working? Tell us what you think!