• February 1, 2015
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

The Hidden Sources of Poor Customer Service

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If you really want to irritate a caller to your customer service line, do this: play an automated introductory message that lets him know that his call is very important, then put him on hold for half an hour. If you can throw in a transfer or escalation after that, you're sure to strike a nerve.

In one consumer study after another, the dichotomy that exists between how a company states it treats customers and how it actually treats them repeatedly comes up as a top source of customer frustration when dealing with contact centers.

The next biggest source of frustration is making the customer repeat the same information multiple times on the same call. And while those are two of the most obvious customer pain points, they still happen quite frequently.

"It is all too common for a customer to go through identification and authorization, choose a menu option, have trouble completing a task in the IVR [interactive voice response], and have a call center agent greet him with a completely uninformed 'How can I help you?'" says Susan Hura, founder and principal consultant at SpeechUsability, a voice user interface (VUI) design and consulting firm.

Customers expect agents to be aware of who they are and what they had tried to do in the IVR, and when they aren't, there are real repercussions, according to Hura. It's not only annoying but also "implies that you don't value their time," she says. "Worse, forcing customers to repeat information that they've already given makes them less willing to use IVR automation in the future and negatively impacts their overall perceptions of the organization."

This applies just as much when customers move between support channels, something that is becoming more common in modern consumer interactions. In fact, in its annual Global Customer Experience Survey, NICE Systems, a provider of security and interactions management solutions, found that on average, customers use about six channels, including the phone, social media, Web self-service, and email, to seek a resolution to service questions, issues, or complaints.

"Ultimately, people want to be able to go to any channel, and, as they traverse each channel, find that it's personalized and that they don't have to repeat themselves," says Stephen Fioretti, vice president of product management for Oracle's Service Cloud. They also want "the agent to be prepared when the customer comes to her," he adds.

"You really have to provide channel choices that are flexible for customers," Fioretti adds. "And then when they go across channels, you need to know who they are and where they've already been. You need to provide your agents with as much information as you can about the customer."

Results from NICE Systems' survey also underscore this need. Continuity of service across channels is key, and customers expect companies to remember their past three to five transactions, the research found.

Companies often cite costs, limitations in their agent desktop software, or privacy and security concerns as the key stumbling blocks to being able to pass the necessary information to their agents, according to Hura.

Those are valid reasons. Quite simply, many contact centers are filled with a multiplicity of systems with inconsistencies, inefficiencies, and a lack of control," says Rachel Wentink, senior director of the business automation group at Interactive Intelligence, a call center technology company.

There are many other reasons behind such disconnects that are deeply rooted in the contact center processes and technologies used today. "Broken processes, inefficient policies, duplication, and bottlenecks are causing a lot of customer frustration," says Marilyn Saulnier, director of global contact center consulting at Interactive Intelligence.

Add to that the fact that contact centers face significant reductions in agent staffing and budgets while the number of customer inquiries continues to rise. Such strains are taking their toll on the quality of service offered, as evidenced by drops in customer satisfaction, longer 

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