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Is Your Company Making These Customer Service Mistakes?

By Special Guest
Dana Brownlee, President of Professionalism Matters
November 01, 2016

If you’re like me, you’ve had more than your share of horrible customer service experiences that leave you scratching your head in frustration at the fact that companies seem to make the most glaring customer service mistakes (that could be so easily remedied)!!!!  I’ve certainly wondered….


  • Why does the automated phone system ask me to punch in my account number a zillion times if the representative’s first question will be “Account number please?”
  • Why is it so hard to find an actual customer service phone number for many companies these days?
  • Why can’t you just apologize up front if you made a mistake and act like you care while you’re at it?
  • Why can’t you listen to what I’m actually saying????
  • Why can’t I get a number to call you back if needed – YOU, the agent I’ve been talking to for the last 30 minutes, not the main 800 number where I’ll have to start all over!
  • If you know you have times when you can expect “higher than normal call volume,” why can’t you staff up for those and not leave me on hold for 15 minutes?
  • Why does it seem like I’m talking to someone who’s hired just to read a script instead of someone who is really knowledgeable and equipped to solve my problem?

Having analyzed real customer feedback from the 2016 Professionalism Matters “What Customers Really Want Survey,” I’ve identified five TRAGIC Customer Service Mistakes too many companies are making.

1. Most customer service efforts are focused on “fixing” the problem instead of eliminating it. 

What’s the difference?  Eliminating the problem is about identifying the root cause to ensure that problem never occurs again, while “fixing” it is about addressing that specific customer’s complaint and moving on to the next call.  When I ordered a tie for Father’s Day with my infant son’s picture on it and realized that the company put the wrong baby’s picture on my tie, I immediately called customer service.  Although the CSR (in a very matter of fact tone), immediately offered to refund my money, I was more disconcerted to see that she had ZERO interest in figuring out why this happened and what steps she should take to ensure this problem didn’t happen to anyone else.

In contrast, I read that in an effort to truly find/fix root cause problems, one company had decided to eliminate traditional “customer service” and instead have their developers/engineers take all customer service calls.  This approach not only ensures customers can talk directly to the person who can fix the root cause problem, but it also encourages a broader set of employees have direct customer interaction. 

2. Most companies have a “customer dissatisfaction infrastructure” where CSRs are low skilled, poorly compensated, or not highly valued.

Within a company organizational structure, Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) oftentimes have the MOST regular, direct customer interaction – in many ways they are the face of the company and have a HUGE impact on not just customer service levels but ultimate customer loyalty as well.  Customers may try a product or service based on the specifications of the specific product/service, but they often stay with/leave a company based on the service they receive over time.  Given the fact that CSRs have SO much influence on customer impressions, you’d think that they would be highly regarded, trained, and compensated…WRONG!!!  It’s exactly the opposite in too many cases. CSRs are typically among the lowest paid staff, with a 2015 median annual salary (according to Bureau of Labor Statistics) of just $31,720. They’re often entry level positions requiring little education/training.  The low pay most likely negatively impacts employee morale, turnover, candidate quality and other factors that can have a dramatic downstream impact on customer service levels.  Companies must not just make changes in how they recruit, train, and reward CSR staff, but also shift the corporate culture to acknowledge the importance of the CSR role. 

3. Increased automation and outsourcing has resulted in decreased customer satisfaction.  

Customers HATE IVRs, phone trees, and phone automation systems but, for some reason, companies seem to insist on using them. To make matters worse, customers are insulted by being asked to input account information (sometimes multiple times) only to have to repeat it again once the agent takes the call.  It just makes the "automated" system seem useless in addition to being frustrating.  Even if it's not practical to ditch IVRs completely (particularly for large call centers), companies should seriously consider streamlining them to require a response to no more than one automated question.  Another option could be providing email or IM customer service as an option for customers who prefer that to minimize the volume of live calls (and thereby minimize the need for automated support).

Outsourcing call centers overseas may save money short term but it also creates significant customer frustration and decreases customer loyalty.  Eighty-two percent of survey respondents indicated that they have difficulty understanding their service representative due to dialect.  While there are likely cost savings associated with outsourcing call centers, it's questionable whether the savings outweigh the long term cost associated with reduced customer satisfaction/customer loyalty.  Also, the purported "cost savings" may not actually be as significant as they appear if customers have to make multiple calls (instead of one) in order to reach a representative with whom they can effectively communicate.

4. CSR scripts encourage a robotic, insincere experience for customers.

Many respondents commented on the "lack of empathy" they feel from CSRs during customer service interactions.  Having extensive "If they say this, you say that" scripts are the perfect recipe for robotic, sterile interactions.  Even the most well intentioned CSR is likely discouraged from actual unique, personalized connection with the customer when a word for word script is stuffed in their face and they're told to follow it....or else! Furthermore, scripts seem to discourage active listening, possibly because the agents may be anticipating what the customer is going to say (based on the options in their script) instead of actually listening to their specific scenario.  Indeed, when asked how often they felt CSRs truly heard/understood their concern/issue during customer service calls, only 35 percent responded “Often” or “Always.”  Anecdotally, they frequently cited this refusal to listen as a key point of frustration. 

Companies should definitely ditch the scripts and instead encourage CSRs to actively listen and pursue true, authentic customer interaction.  More specifically, CSRs should strive to achieve true "customer connection" within the first two minutes of the call.  This connection typically includes a sincere apology if the company dropped the ball in any way, reiteration of the customer's issue (to ensure they know they were heard) and/or a statement of empathy for any inconvenience. 

5. Companies are increasingly removing or minimizing live agent customer service options even though customers clearly prefer addressing customer service issues by phone.

In today's era of social media, chat/IM, and email, companies seem to be trending away from providing live customer service representatives.  Interestingly enough, our survey revealed that respondents overwhelmingly (49 percent) preferred addressing customer service issues by phone.  Text/IM came in a distant second at only 19 percent. Respondents were also frustrated by the increasing prevalence of companies "hiding" their phone contact information deep within the website – ostensibly to make it so difficult to find that customers will give up and opt for other less costly customer service options like email, chat, or social media.  In short, customers feel that trying to reach customer service should not feel like an episode of CSI.

As advancing technology reduces barriers to entry and industries become more and more competitive, companies must do more to keep the customers they have and gain new ones.  I for one have been underwhelmed by most companies’ attempts at customer service and feel a rebranding is in order.  What about “Customer Enthusiasm”?  In today’s social media obsessed world where a really bad review from the wrong dissatisfied customer on the right social media site can make a marked difference in your bottom line, shouldn’t the new goal be “customer enthusiasm” – how do we excite customers and make them not just stay with us but rave about us publicly?  Indeed, it seems that the proverbial “cheese has been moved” in the customer service arena and what “worked” yesterday may not be sufficient tomorrow.

About the Author

Dana Brownlee is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant.  She is President of Professionalism Matters, Inc. a boutique professional development corporate training firm based in Atlanta, GA.  She can be reached at danapbrownlee@professionalismmatters.com.  Connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/danabrownlee and Twitter @DanaBrownlee.  




Edited by Alicia Young


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