What's Wrong With Customer Service These Days?

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Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
A Facebook friend wrote a status update yesterday that caught my eye. He was ranting about an interaction he had with a customer service rep, saying "Does 'customer service rep' mean liar nowadays? They B.S. so much they should be in politics. And returning phone calls? Forget it."

A Facebook friend wrote a status update yesterday that caught my eye. He was ranting about an interaction he had with a customer service rep, saying "Does 'customer service rep' mean liar nowadays? They B.S. so much they should be in politics. And returning phone calls? Forget it."
His experience, as well my own recent negative experiences with customer service reps, begs the question: What's wrong with customer service these days?

Since I moved in May, I have had the misfortune of having to call numerous contact centers to solve everything from screw-ups with the cable company, billing errors, and wrong addresses. I have to tell you--I'm not impressed at the "service" many companies are delivering.

Is it my imagination, or was service much better just a year or two ago? Then, it seemed as though organizations were getting their acts together and their service strategies in order--things seemed to have been changing for the better. So why does service now seem to be getting worse?

This week alone, I had to call my cable company four times in one day and plead with the reps to turn my service back on. The payments were being automatically withdrawn from my bank account and paid to the old account for my previous residence, even though that account had long been closed. Nobody at the company picked up on that. Each time I called, I was greeted with confused and uninterested service reps, all promising me that the situation would be resolved (by the billing department, not them) and my service restored. That actually didn't happen until about 12 hours after my first call at 9 a.m.

Also each time I called, I had to start over and explain my story again to a new agent. Why weren't the notes about my case on their screens? Why weren't they empowered to resolve the situation themselves? Where was the empathy?

Yesterday I had to call a magazine to resolve a situation where I had been receiving bills for a yearly subscription that had been gifted to me months before and paid in full. Uninterested in checking to see if these bills would go to collections and harm my credit, the agent flatly told me that I should not be getting bills because my account was paid in full (duh!). Then she quickly hung up the phone. I guess she was being measured on average handle time.

In addition to uninformed and apathetic agents, there seems to be a lack of technology to help enhance the experience. Five years ago, I spoke to contact center solutions providers that promised that in the near future, consumers wouldn't have to retype or repeat their account numbers during customer service calls. We're still not there yet. I've called several companies over the past few months and every time I've had to repeat my account number with the agent after already being prompted in the IVR for it.

It seems as though the common complaints of five years ago are still prevalent now: unpopulated knowledge bases, difficult-to-find service numbers on websites, long waits in call queues to speak to service representatives, and restrictive service policies that preclude doing what's necessary to make customers happy. Common sense says it's easier to keep a current customer than acquire a new one. Why, then, is it so difficult for current customers to get any help?

How can the quality of customer service be improved? I'll suggest three basic steps. The first and most important thing: Agents need to be nice and understanding. Remember, if someone is talking to a customer service provider, it usually means something's wrong.

Second, agents need to show some action. Make sure that it's an honest attempt to try to help a customer, rather than just making it look like they're helping.

Third, find a resolution. Listen to the customer's issue and learn what the solution should be and then take the time to find resolution before the customer hangs up.

Customer service is not dead, but it seems to be regressing. Companies just need to take time to show that they care about the customers' problems and are actively trying to correct them. If that doesn't work, find an alternate solution, and then follow up with a phone call to see if it's actually working for the customer.

As for my Facebook friend, I wouldn't hold my breath for a phone call.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION