Me: “Hello. I would like to change my flight to the following week, please.”
Airline: “No problem, Ms. Poppen. Let me check on availability. (15 mins on hold) It appears there are two seats left. We can move you to the new flight, but a change fee will apply as well as the fare difference.”
Me: “What are my other options?”
Airline: “Let me check. (15 mins on hold) There is no other availability for those dates.”
Me: “Ok. I’ll move it, but I’d like to request that you waive the change fee.”
Airline: “I need to check with my manager on that request. (20 mins on hold) We can waive it for you this one time.”
You get the idea. Some of you may even be nodding along to this experience. To change my flight took almost an hour, and if the agent were able to proactively share recommendations on options and/or waive the change fee on their own, the call could have taken half the time or less.
Have you ever had a poor service experience? You probably don’t need to think too hard to find an example, unfortunately.
All too often, customers experience a glitch in service, and in most cases, it could have been avoided. While there are many reasons customer experiences go awry, there are some common themes to consider as you think through your own customer journey. Below are some common challenges to providing excellent customer service and potential solutions to resolve or mitigate them.
Employees are not empowered to resolve a request or complaint.
If customers get caught up in a back and forth (similar to the above) to resolve their issue, it creates even further frustration and worsens the experience. Ensuring your employees have the authority to resolve a customer’s issues means they can often resolve them upon first call/interaction. This will significantly reduce frustration and create the opportunity to leave the customer feeling their needs were understood and met quickly and that the employee was helpful, responsive, and credible.
Limited resources, or support, to effectively service customer needs
Companies that don’t invest in the foundational systems and processes necessary to help their teams succeed will find themselves in a situation where employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and retention are low. Employees need access to the resources that will allow them to do their jobs successfully and to resolve issues for customers. Having the right foundation means the better employee and customer experience as well as better business outcomes, including higher efficiency, productivity, and revenue.
In addition, if employees do not receive support from other functions such as sales, marketing, and product in setting the correct expectations and resolving issues in a timely manner, employees may not be able to sustain a positive attitude, negatively impacting the customer experience. When employees on the front-line need to continuously make excuses or chase internally for answers, it creates an energy drain, which may ultimately lead to employee and customer attrition if not addressed systematically.
Lack of training/enablement
When an organization does not spend the time to fully onboard and enable their people, the impact is a frustration for the employee and poor service for the customer. Dedicate resources (time and money) for the training and tools that will help prepare your employees for successfully servicing customers. Employees should be fully informed about the company’s strategic direction and goals, the value proposition of the products and services, and best practice use cases. In addition, they should have a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities in delivering a successful customer experience.
Enablement should be ongoing, and target key changes and information employees need to know to provide their customers the most value possible. It should incorporate feedback from customers and internal teams so that improvements in the customer experience can be made continuously.
Unfortunately, sometimes customers purchase products and/or services with specific expectations in mind that are not fully vetted or understood. This results in a poor experience from the beginning. To limit this risk, ensure the sales team is fully enabled and armed with appropriate resources to align requirements to what your product and/or services provided. In addition, ensure a warm handoff process is in place so that the post-sales teams can start the partnership with a full understanding of the customer’s expectations. Further to this, establish a joint kickoff, if possible, where the sales representative and the post-sales team are included in the same customer meeting to ensure full alignment of expectations.
Hiring the right people
It’s critical to review what knowledge, skills, and experience will be applicable to servicing your customers in the best way possible and ensuring you hire for these skills or the potential to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills. But perhaps most important in hiring a team that engages with customers directly is to ensure the team members have the following five key qualities: collaborative, customer-obsessed, empathetic, curious, and are creative problem-solvers. While behaviors that reflect these can be learned to an extent, people who draw on these characteristics naturally tend to have an easier time forming meaningful partnerships with their customers.
Noted above as a key quality in providing amazing customer service, empathy allows for more rapid de-escalation of an issue and collaborative problem-solving between the employee and the customer. When employees display a lack of empathy and rely strictly on processes and canned responses, the customer is left to feel as though they are not valued, or their concerns are not taken seriously. For employees who do not have a natural tendency toward empathy, you can help teach them responses and actions that will be perceived as empathetic, but hiring for this quality is preferred as it sets the employee up for better success in a role that requires it.
You can likely think of several more examples, but the bottom line is there are ways to get ahead of poor customer service by ensuring you define and enable the ideal experience, measure what is working and what isn’t via employee and customer listening programs, and incorporate the feedback into continuous improvements.
In sum, creating the ideal customer experience is a journey without a final destination!