A recent article from NPR, Press 1 for more anger: Americans are fed up with customer service, highlighted Americans frustration with the customer service environment today. Customers have felt increasing frustration with the use of technology and offshore/nearshore call centers that lack understanding of their customer needs and the amount of time it takes to reach a live agent. The key complaints that commonly arose from customers in the United States were endless IVR loops, agents with no power to help them resolve their issue, and AI chat bots that could not provide resolution. Rising product costs have increased customer expectations of not only the product, but the company’s customer service. Companies are sensing the heightened frustrations and are beginning to look to call centers in the United States to help increase the quality of their customer service interactions to build their brand loyalty.
Companies utilize IVR technology to save their customers time, but in many cases have the opposite effect. Companies implement IVR to handle higher call volume without having to increase their employee base. These platforms help separate the simple calls from the more complex issues that require human interaction to resolve. For some customers, IVR meets their desire of avoiding speaking with a live agent, but many customers prefer to speak to an agent to feel their concerns are heard. What is intended to save time puts customers in a seemingly endless cycle to get in touch with a live agent and increases frustration. The customer’s demeanor shifts from one of patience and curiosity to one of frustration and anger as soon as they reach an agent. The agent is put at a disadvantage from the start of the conversation and must start deescalating the call before even getting to ask for the customer’s information.
For all industries it is vital for front line employees to understand policies and feel empowered to utilize them to make a decision to help the customer. These tools and skills must be taught through consistent training to ensure the employee has all of the tools they need to succeed. Customer’s frustrations rise when they feel they are being transferred to several different supervisors and managers when they believe the first agent should have been empowered to solve their issue. Ongoing agent training contributes to agent confidence on the call and creates a “can do” environment which the customer immediately identifies on the phone. An agent with a “can do” spirit can help deescalate a call faster than an agent who feels they are looked over by their management team and do not feel they are valued. We have all been on a call where the agent is lackluster in their desire to help and the customer feels undervalued. As a company, how can we grow and bolster customer confidence if both the customer and our team feel they do not matter? The answer is high turnover of employees and churn of customers. Brand confidence is fragile and if our team exudes low brand confidence, our customers will feel the same.
As we have all seen in recent years, AI Chat Bots have blown up on every site. While chat bots seem to be a quick and easy way to communicate with a customer, they cannot understand customer demeanor. Less developed chat bots lack the breadth of data and ability to respond to a customer with nuanced questions. Chat bots can be a good tool for simple questions ranging from standard shipping times to simple policy questions. However, when a customer needs an explanation of account information or refund policy, an AI Chat Bot is unable to explain it in a way the customer may be able to more easily understand.
In the past decade, we have seen a proliferation of companies taking their customer service to offshore and nearshore call centers to help save money, but it can cause more harm than good. Inflationary pressures have pushed customer expectations to a new level. Customers perceive that higher priced products should come with “white glove” treatment. Offshore and nearshore call centers lack the nuanced understanding of customer desires and can inadvertently cause more damage than good. Customer feedback in the United States in recent years has shown strong sentiments of frustration for offshore and nearshore call centers because of language barriers and the ability to relate to the United States culture. Customer service is a delicate balance between being able to empathize with a customer’s frustration as well as giving them a solution to their issue that satisfies both the customer and the company they represent. The feedback has been strong enough that many companies are looking to return their customer service to the United States.
Companies looking to build trust and confidence in their brand will make a concerted effort to provide high quality customer interactions. Negative posts about a brand via social media can have a devastating effect to a company’s bottom line. Perception is reality, and social media is a crucible that accelerates customer distrust based on few interactions. Each interaction with a customer service agent or any employee of a brand can make or break your ability to build customer loyalty and new markets. Customer service in some cases can be the first cost saving measure for companies but can oftentimes be the vehicle to push growth and profit margins.
In Amas Tenumah’s book, Waiting for Service: An Insider's Account of Why Customer Service is Broken and Tips to Avoid Bad Service, he articulates, “I usually say customer service is harder than rocket science. And the reason it's harder is while there are formulas they can calculate [to] put a rocket on the moon, there is no formula for putting two strangers on the same phone call to resolve an issue." Customer service is the front door to your organization and as we all know first impressions are the only impressions we get to invite a customer to join our brand. As an organization, we carefully select our team to represent who we are as a company. Why not give them the opportunity to showcase their skills and passions while working with a customer over bland, frustrating technology that alienates the customer? Our team is our most valuable resource to build customer confidence and create interactions that are full of kindness and solutions.
At ASK our foundation is customer service with Southern hospitality. Southern hospitality in short is respect mixed with a desire to make your customer feel valued and appreciated. Our teams are empowered through training and development to give your customers an experience filled with positive outcomes. Walk through our front door and experience our team’s love for customer service and join our ASK family of partners! Let’s have a conversation! Chat with Ray Monasterski at 334.386.3458 to find out more about how ASK can help you build brand loyalty!