Sadly, we all have our own customer service horror stories. I have a few of my own, like the time I was on the phone with an agent for an online service who was helping me set up one of their features, but he didn’t know how to get me to the next step. “Can I put you on hold while I check with my supervisor on how to get to the next screen?” Forty-five minutes later I was still on hold when I finally hung up, sticking it out the entire time mainly out of curiosity to see how long it would actually take for the rep to get back to me.
Negative experiences aside, I’ve had some rather remarkable interactions that made me feel as though I was witnessing a company’s successful internal system of customer service policies that addressed customers’ challenges in noticeably effective ways. Especially during this holiday shopping season, when things can get chaotic and employees get harried and burnt out, I’ve had conversations with countless employees who promptly assisted me with cheerfulness, humor, and patience.
Gratefully the negative experiences I’ve had are not the norm, but the “on hold ad infinitum” experience makes one pause to wonder about the underlying causes of lack of satisfactory customer service and what approaches a business could take to avoid developing a bad rap for intolerable customer interactions.
Poor customer service can hurt a company in many ways:
- Loss of current customers.
If you’re not regularly providing a convenience or pleasant experience for your customers, they won’t hesitate to seek out and do business with other local or online competitors.
- Negative reputation and loss of future customers.
Bad service = negative word of mouth = dwindling sales.
- Loss of employees.
Having inadequate customer service protocols in place can be stressful for employees when they’re given little or no guidance and struggle to figure out how to deal with different types of customer challenges.
- Loss of profit.
All the above leads to a steady loss of profit which can start an inescapable downward spiral that prevents your company from having the resources to recover by being able to afford competent staff or implementing customer service training.
Causes of Poor Customer Service
Some instances of poor customer interaction are isolated, such as employees not feeling their best due to health issues or experiencing challenges in their personal lives, and these situations can be dealt with on an individual case-by-case basis. Other more common and widespread factors that organizations typically deal with, however, usually include:
- Nightmarish telephone systems.
Out of all customer service complaints, the majority revolve around trying to get connected with an actual human on the telephone with the right department who can truly understand and resolve the challenge on the spot. Out of the 17 top complaints discovered by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, more than half are related to telephone issues. To minimize these types of complaints and steer people away from complicated telephone trees, companies are now utilizing live chat and instant messaging apps. Through live chat and messaging, customers can usually more quickly and directly connect with an agent via the company’s website or smartphone app and receive a transcript of their conversation for later proof if needed.
- Lack of employee engagement.
A several-year study by the management consultancy Bain & Co. involving more than 200,000 employees from around the world indicated that frontline employees suffered the lowest levels of engagement. Understanding that the motivation and enthusiasm of customer service staff is crucial to profitability, engagement efforts should be top priority. Any effort to boost their engagement level will most likely make a noticeable difference.
- Confusion about how to handle a wide variety of situations.
Customer service excellence training can offer proven ways for employees to manage various types of challenges. Specifically, it can show them how to handle conflict, stay calm and learn to defuse angry customers, improve communication, use emotional intelligence to enhance relationships, and use their natural abilities and talents to serve customers. These skills can help eliminate the biggest customer service complaint, which is rudeness and discourteous behavior (tied with being unable to get a human on the phone).
- Lack of knowledge about products or policies.
Ensure your staff are properly trained on the products they sell by giving them access to your vendors’ most current training materials. Keep employees updated on your company’s policies by ensuring they have access to a company intranet site where they can find the latest policy updates. Even better – and in addition the above – post detailed tutorials, product information, or policies on your website so many customers can even avoid having to reach out to speak with one of your employees.
- Dealing with work overload.
There are times when feeling overworked is unavoidable, especially during employees’ unexpected shifts in schedules, changes in personnel, or seasonal periods. But employees can learn to be more productive despite having to deal with those issues along with deadlines, meetings, interruptions, phone calls, e-mails, and crises, which are all part of our day-to-day life. We can all become more effective utilizing the time we have available, and with proper time management guidance and coaching, employees can learn to work smarter – not harder – to manage the limited time they have available during each work day.
- Feeling powerless to resolve issues.
Employees want to make a difference and be able to act autonomously to resolve challenges. When their hands are tied to make on-the-spot decisions and act on their own, frustration mounts and dissatisfaction and lack of company loyalty sets in. By adjusting protocols which allow frontline employees to manage some of their own agenda for problem solving, they feel empowered and their work becomes meaningful because their role feels like an important part of the overall objective of the company.
When I was describing to my daughter a recent customer service horror story, she noted the absurdity of it because the situation was “totally preventable.” Many causes of customer service complaints are preventable but some are not – even the companies with the best reputations for satisfaction still receive complaints. Companies can learn, however, to recognize then minimize the causes before a bad reputation quickly spirals out of control, since improving customer experience is one of the most important objectives a company can work toward to becoming a recognized brand and realizing increased profits and sustainability.