Common Customer Service Fails: Poorly Trained, Disempowered Customer Service Agents

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When a senior citizen’s house burned to the ground in early April, the fire consumed his television set and cable box. So his daughter called Comcast to cancel the service. The agent refused, because the account number was also lost in the fire.

Customer Service Fails

“Here’s your choice,” Jessica Schmidt told the agent. “Disconnect the service or send someone out to fix the cable, because it’s not working.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” the Comcast rep replied, “because the house burned down.”

Your agents should be empowered to override protocol to help a customer in an extraordinary situation. They should feel they have the authority to override policy in order to adhere to basic human decency. If you can’t manage to ensure agents understand this distinction, fire everyone, close your doors, and burn your office building to the ground. Customer service agent training must begin and end with the understanding that customer satisfaction is the point of company policy, and therefore subservient to it.

Training agents well isn’t easy. But it’s possible. Contrast Comcast’s recent debacle with Nationwide’s recent success.

As Fast Company described the situation, “In a world where any customer can instantly access an internet’s worth of information, many customer support teams are still working with constrained scripts handed down from management.”

Nationwide tore up the script. When a customer’s RV broke down on vacation the local broker told him he wasn’t covered, so he called Nationwide corporate.

It was a complicated problem, and the customer service rep didn’t know how to solve it; in the old model, the case would have taken days. The rep posted the issue internally, got colleagues involved from claims and product, and they figured out that not only was the guy covered, he was also eligible for emergency funds. He was on his way without a huge bill in three hours.

That’s how you customer service.

However, teaching agents to put customers before rules means they first have to know the rules.

According to calculations Jason Evanish ran, replacing a good employee will likely cost your company $65,510:

4-16-2015 8-52-31 AM

Help Scout has a comprehensive, practical guide for effective employee onboarding. According to Help Scout, $65,510 is what a poor onboarding process will cost you. And as the post correctly points out, growing a broken system compounds the inefficiency. You do not want to add more agents until you know you’re able to train them to be successful.

Here’s what an agent needs to know before they can be successful:

1. What the product is and does.

Here’s the reality: Without proper training, customers will know more about products than agents. This is frustrating for customers and frightening for agents. Product training must be comprehensive, and it must be ongoing, as otherwise product updates mean a user and agent will be talking about two different products with the same name.

2. Who the company is.

What is culture? Writers spill so much ink on the importance of a company culture, creating and maintaining a company culture, etc. and so little on what a company culture is.

Help Scout points to The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Socialization for a list of what comprises a culture:

These are questions a long-time employee, heck, even a founder might be hard-pressed to answer quickly. There’s zero reason to expect a new employee to just glean this stuff naturally and in short order.

Help Scout suggests a “lovely little piece of content marketing from Trello” which describes the important elements of their onboarding process.

Training on company culture should include the role and func­tion of each depart­ment. When questions are routed to the right people first, customers save time. As Impact Learning points out, “Cus­tomers don’t want to have to sit on hold while your cus­tomer fac­ing agent fig­ures out which depart­ment or per­son might bet­ter help them.”

Impact Learning again: “This is also where an organization’s soft­ware comes into play as cus­tomers don’t want to repeat them­selves every time they are trans­ferred to a new per­son or depart­ment. Hav­ing quick access to a customer’s his­tory helps alle­vi­ate stress and frus­tra­tion for all parties.” Customer service software that either contains CRM functionality or integrates well with your CRM makes this possible.

Many of the most popular help desk software products offer built-in customer databases, including Freshdesk, UserVoice, and Kayako. Here’s a full list.

3. What’s expected.

The natural result of agents knowing what the ultimate goal is (client joy), and how to get there (company culture and policies), is that expectations are obvious.

However, expectations still need to be translated into actual measurable benchmarks and goals. Which leads us to the topic of next week’s common customer service mistake: Not quantifying customer service.

How do you onboard your employees so they know what your product does, who your company is, and what’s expected of them? Let us know in the comments!

Looking for Customer Service software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Service software solutions.

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About the Author


Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is a former Capterra analyst.


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