How Consultant's Fix Customer Service Failures


  • For customers incurring problems with a product or vendor, the customer service organization may be the only thing that prevents an unhappy customer from becoming a former customer.
  • The consequences of poor customer support include customer churn and public scorn on social media channels. A Zendesk consumer research survey found that "60 percent of consumers are strongly influenced by comments about companies on social media sites."
  • Customers are 65 percent more likely to share failed rather than positive customer service experiences on social media. So while it's important to make customers happy, it may be even more important to avoid making them unhappy.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

There are many reasons why customers get frustrated with contact and call centers. I have been a customer service consultant for over 30 years. From my experience, I've found aligning those reasons into three categories facilitates a holistic and accelerated approach to fixing them.


Technology Challenges

A top customer complaint is a tortuous IVR system. It's the caller's first interaction with customer support and sets the tone for the rest of the experience.

IVRs can reduce hold times and transfers by routing callers to the right destination but when IVRs are difficult to understand, perplexing to navigate or don't include a response for the caller's issue, they put callers into a frustrating abyss. Many callers lose patience and pound-out or zero-out in a hopeful attempt to speak to a human that can forward them to the right place.

Caller patience is further exacerbated by the message that tells callers to "listen carefully as our menu items have changed." It's an unnecessary advisement and often not true.

Call Center Fail

To shift IVRs from being perceived as meandering gatekeepers to aids that accelerate accurate call routing, they must be clear, concise and complete and have no more than five options at any one time. If they use speech recognition, it needs to accurately recognize the caller's words. This requires advanced natural language processing (NLP) and extensive testing.

For contact centers that authenticate customers, the IVR should integrate with computer telephony or a call center CRM system so that the caller ID confirms the caller identify rather than require the customer to enter their account number of some other company identifier many customers don't know.

And for goodness sake, if you do force them to enter their account information, don't ask them to repeat it once an agent picks up.

Repeating information can really raise the customer's temperature. What's needed to eliminate this friction is IVRs that create agent screen-pops in the CRM system and case fidelity across transfers and channels. Several popular CRM systems such as Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce can share case context and customer conversation when transferring to another agent or manager, or when moving from one channel to another.

Another call center technology issue that is less visible to the customer but impacts the quality of customer service is the high number of piecemeal and disintegrated software applications. It's not unusual for agents to shuffle between 4 and 8 different applications during a single customer call.

The remedy to this inefficiency is either one holistic customer support application or system integration among multiple apps. Given the maturity of CRM systems, the recognition that the CRM application is the customer system of record and the fact that system integration is the Achilles heel of IT organizations, a single holistic CRM platform has tremendous advantage.


Process Challenges

Customer complaints about long hold times, multiple transfers, excessive effort or not getting their problems resolved on the first call are indicative of process failures.

The most pervasive of these complaints are long hold times.

Excessive hold times have a direct impact on customer churn. Research shows that after two minutes on hold, 40 percent of customers will hang up and one-third of those customers will not call back. That means companies can lose 15 percent of their customers from excessive holds. When problems don't get fixed, customers seek out new vendors.

Call Center Failure

Hold times are most often a result of agent staffing. Resource capacity planning is not easy but is aided and continuously improved with workforce management software. Call center managers should track Average Time on Hold (ATH) to make adjustments to staffing models. Other techniques such as call-backs can relieve customers from excessive waits and help flatten call volume spikes.


People Challenges

Customer complaints that agents are disinterested, impersonal, inexperienced, mechanical, rude, unempowered or unintelligible (difficult to understand) are people issues.

Any one of these complaints leave customers with a feeling of indifference by the vendor.

Customer Service Fail

No doubt about it, being a Contact Center Representative is a very tough job. That's why a combination of people skills and technical skills are essential.

People skills start with empathy. Technology can help by detecting customer sentiment and providing a 360-degree customer view that aids personalization and context, but empathy is a human skill.

Empathy starts with listening to the customer and acting as the customer's advocate.

When customers feel they are being listened to they begin to feel valued. When customers feel the agent is their internal company advocate, they begin to place trust in the company. Value and trust are the leading tenets to delivering memorable customer experiences.

Technical skills are commensurate with the complexity of the products or solutions being supported.

It's also critical to recognize that a good agent experience is a prerequisite to a good customer experience.

That's why proactively defining an intentional agent experience is both the single most overlooked and essential hallmark of customer service excellence.

The Point is This

Good customer support is proven to increase future purchases, customer lifetime value and customer retention.

On the flip side, research from Accenture advises that "52 percent of customers have switched providers in the past year due to poor customer support."

Customer Service Failure

The cost of poor customer service is rising. Accenture advises that 52% of customers have switched providers in the past year due to poor support.

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That research is bolstered by a survey conducted by Dimensional Research that found 95 percent of customers incurring poor customer support share their experience with friends and colleagues while 50 percent publicly share their frustrations on social media.

There is no one way to design and deliver good customer experiences, but there are evidence-based customer service best practices that reduce risk and accelerate performance results.