It’s the question on everyone’s lips: When do our robot overlords arrive? The answer appears to be soon, especially when it comes to customer service.
Gartner predicts that by 2017, only a third of customer service interactions will still require human support. This year, 70% of contact centers plan to use more virtual agents, according to Salesforce.
But for now, humans are still needed for keeping customers happy. Do your agents know what it takes, or are they squandering goodwill by wasting time and making work for your customers? Here’s how to know whether your agents are sabotaging your customer service efforts.
1. They’re treating all customers the same.
One difference between someone who’s been in the game a while and a noob is that a pro knows that some customers are worth more than others.
First, returning customers are worth much more than new ones. Frequent travelers are more valuable to airlines than the yearly vacationers. Find the customers who have a strong need for your services, and treat them well. For a startup, early users are the most valuable customers.
Agents should be using a help desk software system that either has CRM functionality or integrates with a CRM. That way, from the first interaction, the agent can see how much business the customer has done with the company and know how to prioritize them.
If your agents are treating frequent customers like infrequent ones, old ones like new ones, then they’re sabotaging you.
2. They force customers to switch channels.
Weekend before last, my Megabus was an hour late, with zero warning or communication from the company. I wanted a refund. I went to their website from my smartphone to look for customer service. The first problem I encountered was that they have a separate mobile site instead of a responsively designed website. (More on how and why to offer mobile customer service.) The second problem is that clicking the link to their customer service page from that mobile site gives me an error page saying ‘that page is not available on the mobile site.’ So I navigate to the full site on mobile. The third problem is that it’s not a way to get in contact with customer service, it’s a set of useless FAQs. In fact, there is no way, as far as I can tell, to contact customer service on the Megabus website.
So I tweeted at Megabus. That’s when I saw another customer complaining that they had been stranded seven hours outside. The response to that unfortunate soul from Megabus? “Hi, Can you please follow and DM me reservation details?” I’m still waiting on a response to my tweet.
Multi-channel customer service is not immediately asking your customer to switch channels. It’s helping your customers how they want to be helped.
3. They act like robots.
The best support teams wear three hats at once: teacher, student, and friend. Like teachers, good agents explain products and services they know backwards and forwards. Like students, they learn from each other and from customers. And like your friends, good agents are there for you, are attentive, understanding, honest, and kind. They seem to care about your problems. They listen closely, and offer candid feedback and suggestions. They don’t waste your time. “A fast response time is like texting a friend who responds quickly.”
It’s tough to find people who are empathic, excited, and enthusiastic but who also don’t get agitated easily. Phrases that help differentiate robots from people include “happy to help” and “I understand how (frustrating, annoying, angering) that must be.”
Friendly and calm are hard to do together. Agents who become easily flustered when on a tough call are less effective and more prone to burnout. Even-tempered can often come across as robotic. But robots don’t sell, people do.
To make sure your agents seem like people, make it standard practice for agents to introduce themselves to customers. It builds trust and rapport. It helps set the tone of the whole conversation and helps customers feel like they’re talking to a real person.
“May I ask” helps keep the tone of the conversation friendly, and helps remind agents that asking customers to explain something is work for the customer.
One way to improve the tone of text-based interactions is to use emoticons. One study from Penn State University showed that online reps who regularly employed emoticons made customers happier.
Sure, robots might one day replace your customer service agents. But if customers can’t tell the difference between an agent and a robot right now, you need new agents.
4. They wait until they have an answer to respond.
An automated response is not enough.
A third of shoppers expect an immediate response to a product question, and 40% want one within five minutes, or they will abandon their purchase and look for it somewhere else. A mere five percent will wait an hour.
Skillshare Product Manager Eric Ma has only nine people on his Product and Engineering teams. People “assume we have a team of at least 50,” he wrote as he described for
Medium how his company effectively ships product. “The key for us has been optimizing for impact rather than just speed. We realized early on that moving quickly was meaningless if we weren’t working on the right things. As a result, we invested heavily in making impact our team’s ultimate competitive advantage.”
Well-organized agents will respond more quickly and completely. Try to hire agents who can prove their organization skills and who meet all deadlines throughout the application process.
5. They’re not being careful with customer data.
Your biggest cybersecurity threat? Your employees. Between misfeasance and user error, employees create the chinks in your armor that cybercriminals use to steal your data.
Earlier this year, AT&T had to pay the FCC $25 million in fines for a series of data breaches that exposed nearly 280,000 U.S. customers’ private information. The company tracked the breaches down to call center employees who sold customers’ data to third parties. Thieves then used customers’ names, telephone numbers, and the last four digits of customers’ Social Security numbers to unlock stolen phones.
There may be nothing your agents could do to sabotage you more effectively than to be careless with your customers’ data. Not only do you risk fines, but lost reputation as well, as customers flee companies that don’t keep their private information private.
To ensure your agents keep your customer info secure, put someone in charge of data security. Give them decision rights to set information governance policies and train agents on information security best practices. Make information security an organization-wide priority. Be choosy about the vendors you work with. And make sure the agents you hire take security seriously.
Bonus! One way you might be sabotaging them:
The fastest way to lose a good agent is to make them responsible for an outcome without giving them the authority to do what it takes to get the results you want.
Agents need complete ownership of their customers’ problems.
If you don’t feel comfortable empowering your agents to that degree, you’re either hiring wrong or training wrong, or both. And you’re mistreating your customers and agents by doing so. Every agent should be aligned on company goals and culture. They should know what is and isn’t allowed to make that happen. They should know which and when rules can be broken to deliver an outstanding customer interaction.
Until our robot overlords take over, we need our customer service agents. The five signs yours are actually sabotaging you are:
- They’re treating all customers the same.
- They force customers to switch channels.
- They act like robots.
- They wait until they have an answer to respond.
- They’re not being careful with customer data.
What do you watch out for with customer service agents? Let us know in the comments!
Images by Abby Kahler