Customer Experience News & Trends

5 obstacles to great customer experiences

At every turn in the customer journey, there’s almost always an obstacle. Do your front-line people know how to avoid and overcome the most common ones?

The worst part: Most people don’t see the obstacles coming. In fact, they work through and around them all day — and customer service suffers for it.

“Customer service employees have to navigate a jungle of obstacles,” said Jeff Toister, author of Service Failure. “Angry customers, defective products, and corporate silos are just a few reasons why customer service is hard.”

The biggest obstacles are the things that get in almost everyone’s way when trying to do their jobs. Here are the top five that Toister recently revealed at the ICMI Contact Center Expo and Conference in Orlando.

1. The performance battle

Many service pros face a quiet dilemma when they help customers: quality vs. quantity. They know they need to deliver great experiences, but they are also expected to meet some service levels — like dealing with a minimum number of customers. So they skip steps or don’t follow some procedures to hurry the process. They’re stressed over it, too.

Fix: Regularly review with front-line employees what’s most important to customers and your company based on surveys and feedback. Then help reps prioritize their duties and expectations when dealing with customers. Another fix: If you now keep up-to-date statistics on a board in the department, drop it so reps become more concerned about quality and less about quantity.

2. Multi-tasking

Front-line employees are often charged with so many tasks they can’t focus on one at a time. In some contact centers, reps have five screens they work with at once, helping multiple customers. They lose effectiveness as each task is added.

Fix: Discourage multi-tasking first by making employees aware of it. Explain what it is in training and give clear examples. Help them establish clear priorities for each customer contact and allow them to shut down at least one task — email, an extra monitor, chat — while focusing on others. Just shutting down one potential distraction eases cognitive functions, Toister said.

3. Existing frames

Some front-line employees have difficulties with upset customers or they escalate issues that they should’ve been able to handle because they’ve learned to lean on others. Because they don’t feel in control, they mentally say, “I can’t do anything about this, so I give up.”

Fix: Help struggling employees focus on what they can control — what Toister calls the “Circle of Control.” For instance, talk in training about what they can’t control — bugs in the system that cause customers to complain or a delivery system breakdown. Then emphasize what they can control — satisfaction with service, a first-call resolution, creating calm in chaos, etc. That’s how they can control the outcome to create a good experience.

4. Familiar patterns

Veteran front-line employees are more likely to allow this obstacle to interfere with service. They often make assumptions early in a customer contact based on what they’ve heard and assume will happen next. Then they give the wrong solution because they didn’t hear the issue all the way through — and customers aren’t happy when they have to contact Service again.

Fix: Reduce time pressures. Rotate job assignments. Both help eliminate monotony, which often contributes to making wrong decisions based on familiar patterns.

5. Social pressure

Social pressure is caused by a stressed environment that is created by too many distractions, lack of collegiality, demand being too high for available staff and a lack of training to handle the level of inquiries.

Fix: Reinforce respectful behavior so employees aren’t distracting each other from their work and the customer experience. Share etiquette expectations that remind employees how they should treat each other and to be mindful of other people’s work. Eliminate the bad apples whose attitudes affect overall morale and the customer experience.

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