Preventing the Next Viral Customer Service Call Sensation

To develop a service climate that supports low-effort service goals, customer service teams should take these three key steps.
Customer Service

In this day and age, it's not particularly surprising that the power of social media can propel one customer's interaction with a company to meteoric heights of visibility. And let's be honest, it's almost always our less-than-best interactions that make the limelight. We've all heard the service call that recently went viral when a Comcast retention rep literally prevented a customer from cancelling his service. During the lengthy call, the customer service rep relentlessly questions the customer's motives and reasons for switching service providers, demands an explanation for the request and even attempts to make an upsell to the customer who is growing more dissatisfied with the company by the second. Since the event, people across all industries and backgrounds have shown sudden interest in customer service, and, as a result, are offering up their opinions and feelings on the matter. But, for those of us working in the industry and thinking about customer service every day, what strikes us is how easily this could happen to any organization.

The nature of working in a contact center has drastically changed over the last few years. The job of the contact center rep is not as straightforward as it used to be. As customers have become more comfortable self-serving online, the mix of calls coming into the contact center have become more complex since customers only call in about more difficult issues. On top of this, customer expectations continue to grow. They demand tailored service and painless issue resolution, even when the issue at hand is not cut and dry.

It's in this environment that frontline reps must operate in a world of grey with fewer and fewer standard or clear answers. Reps must increasingly use their judgment. They must listen to the customers and tailor their responses to deliver the type of service customers prefer. And, they still have to comply with internal policies, regulatory and legal requirements, and maintain efficiency levels. Simply put, it's a tough job to navigate and sometimes reps do things that could be risky for their employers.

Under the pressure of this risk (and with the fresh memory of events like what happened to Comcast), the natural reaction would be to clamp down, tighten up the monitoring, and compliance, and eliminate the risk.

That would be the exact wrong response.

What customers really want is a low-effort service experience. They want to work with a rep who understands their larger situation, listens to them, and works with them to find a solution that represents the needs of the customer and the company.

To develop a service climate that supports this low-effort goal, CEB recently outlined the three key steps customer service teams should take, including:

Promoting a Collaborative Culture: A concept we've entitled "network judgment" suggests that the way to 'de-risk' rep judgment is to promote a greater degree of networking and collaborative practice-sharing among peers. When reps feel comfortable going to one another for help and begin to share their experiences (both good and bad) with each other, their arsenal for handling customer issues expands and the likelihood of outlier responses, like the one that happened at Comcast, diminish. As a service organization leader, you must cultivate a climate in which these kinds of behaviors can thrive.

Developing the Art of Customer Service Calls: Once the right climate is in place, it's equally important to emphasize and develop the rep skills necessary to handle these difficult calls. Our research has continually demonstrated that customers today seek low-effort experiences that are as easy and painless as possible. In the eye of the customer, effort includes real factors, such as hold times and number of transfers, and perceived effort, or the customer's interpretation of how the rep made them feel.

Practice What Your Preach-3 Skills Reps Must Know: There are three vital skills reps need to demonstrate in order to lower both real and perceived customer effort: experience engineering skills to actively guide customers through interactions, customer baggage-handling skills to address the larger situation the customer is in, and next issue avoidance techniques to preemptively resolve any likely upcoming issues. As a service organization leader, you must place an emphasis on developing these skills to create the right environment for low-effort service to become the norm.

In the end, if you aren't truly assessing and optimizing your service climate and customer effort reduction initiatives, your service organization could be the next one to become an Internet sensation.