When Directing a Customer to Self Service Backfires

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Customer Retention
Customer Service
There are numerous benefits for guiding (note: not forcing) customers to use self-service channels to resolve an issue they may be encountering or to find answers they're seeking. Certainly one of the most popular reasons for ushering a customer to a self-service channel is cost - live call center support can cost between $6 to $12 per call while a web self-service interaction can cost a company less than 10 cents to support, according to Forrester Research. In addition, a number of customers would prefer to self serve depending on the circumstances - after all, why wait for an agent to assist you if you can find the answer yourself? But when a company doesn't offer a customer an option and directs that customer to self serve - and the self service channel doesn't work as expected - this can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction. I learned this the hard way last week.

There are numerous benefits for guiding (note: not forcing) customers to use self-service channels to resolve an issue they may be encountering or to find answers they're seeking. Certainly one of the most popular reasons for ushering a customer to a self-service channel is cost - live call center support can cost between $6 to $12 per call while a web self-service interaction can cost a company less than 10 cents to support, according to Forrester Research. In addition, a number of customers would prefer to self serve depending on the circumstances - after all, why wait for an agent to assist you if you can find the answer yourself? But when a company doesn't offer a customer an option and directs that customer to self serve - and the self service channel doesn't work as expected - this can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction. I learned this the hard way last week.After reviewing our monthly wireless bill one day last week, I noticed that we'd been charged an extra $25 in long-distance fees. This caught my attention since we're supposed to have unlimited voice under our plan. So I called the company's contact center thinking this would be the best way to resolve the issue.

When I did connect with a customer agent, I explained the situation and asked why we were being billed additionally for long-distance service. The agent explained that three calls were placed from my phone number from New Jersey to Toronto on one particular date that fell outside the parameters of our agreement. When I asked about the phone number that was called, I was told by the agent that they weren't permitted to share that information by phone and that I had to look the information up in my online account. I don't recall dialing a number in Canada on that particular day and I'd like to know whose number this is and why I'm being charged $25 for approximately 30 minutes of talk time.

This brings us to problem number 1: Instead of offering web self-service as an option to locate the mystery phone number, web self-service is instead made mandatory by the wireless carrier. The agent couldn't provide me with a satisfactory explanation as to why they couldn't share the phone number with me and gave me no other recourse than to check the website. When I tried the website, my login and password didn't work. Not only was I unable to enter the system, but when I was prompted to reset my password, the system indicated that the password reset information would be texted to my mobile phone. It never was.

Which brings us to problem number 2: The company's systems and procedures aren't competent enough to send a simple text message, eroding what little trust I had in this company to resolve my issue.

Enter problem number 3: About an hour later, I received an automated call asking me to rate my customer service experience with the company. I was so fed up with the situation by then that I simply hung up. In hindsight, I realize that answering the questionnaire truthfully about how abysmal my experience was and how the issue wasn't satisfactorily resolved might've prompted the company to reach out to me proactively with an offer to help. Maybe.

Ironically, I was just telling a friend a few days prior to this incident that I'm exploring other contract-less wireless service options such as Tracfone and Straight Talk since I have felt for years that my family and I are over-paying for our wireless service. Being force-fed a self-service option that didn't work and further aggravated me may be the icing on the cake.

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