Customer Service Mis-Steps: Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

title Whenever we talk about the pre-requisites of a good customer service representative and what makes a good agent etc, we list attributes like empathy, ability to think on their feet and persuasiveness, among other things.

These are all good, sound attributes that separate a good support agent from a bad one.  But what happens when things go wrong? Sometimes, their situations and surroundings mean that circumstances are beyond their control and they are caught in a muddle of somebody else’s making. In such instances, there’s nothing they can do except ride it out.

But identifying those circumstances and fixing them will definitely make their work lives a lot easier. So, what are some of those circumstances and how not to land your beleaguered support staff in the soup?

Unrealistic goals

When the company you work for sets unrealistic goals and targets on your team, the heat will trickle down to each and every team member. When this happens, the agent feels stressed and faced with a customer that wants to desert ship, he finds himself in the unenviable position of holding on to a disgruntled customer, rather like the infamous Comcast rep that could not just let a customer go, no matter how badly the customer wanted to get gone!

The fix: Setting realistic, achievable goals that have been set taking into consideration the manpower and the time available and not just the bottom-line. This will not only result in agents that work towards making their customers’ lives easy, it also makes it possible for the agents to be better at their jobs.

Wooden script

Or worse, a recorded voice reciting trite phrases. In a recent LinkedIn discussion, this ranked in the top 2 annoyances of all time.

A client contacts Customer Support when all else fails. Imagine being at the mercy of a recorded message (the #1 annoyance) or in some ways worse, a support agent that reads off a script, mouthing words without an ounce of feeling. Hard not to grit your teeth when on the receiving end of robotic monotone!

The fix: Just give your support staff a broad outline on how to tackle issues and give them a free rein to speak. Encouraging them to use their initiative and establishing clear “do not cross” lines in the beginning will make it possible for the support agents to feel comfortable enough to empathise naturally with the customers and help sort out their issues.

Wrong person for the wrong job

Everyone knows what soft skills every support staff must have, in order to fulfil the demands of their job perfectly. It is a stressful job, being on the front-lines, dealing with a myriad of issues and sorting out the ills of world (or so it might seem!). Agent Tom, your brightest new employee may be the logical person to join the team but is he the man for the job? How is his Emotional Quotient? Is his irreverence, which always draws the biggest laughs at the company picnics, going to leak through during a stressful conversation and wreck the whole thing?

The fix: It is important to ascertain if Tom is indeed best suited for the role that has been assigned to him. Just because a person has top notch skills, it doesn’t automatically mean that they make good support agents. Square pegs make ill-fitting homes for round holes. A spot of reassigning may do the staff in question and the company in general a whole world of good.

Training – of the wrong kind

It has been often enough but bears repeating – training, training, training. When it comes to the job, there’s no replacement for good training. But there’s the operative word – “good”. How good is your training? Are your agents taught to put the needs of the customers first? Can they deal with the customer’s problem as they would with their own? Are they good problem solvers?

The fix: A good training program should identify the basic traits in a trainee and enhance it. It should also empower their personality and solidify their knowledge base so that they can tackle any glitches that may occur in the future. Insufficient, improper training will unravel all too quickly.

Not open for feedback

Hostile agents, those that seem to lose their cool upon being challenged. Or worse, when presented with a customer that is questioning their every move, agents that forget all their training and either lash out or hang up. Agents that do not take rejection well. Agents that seem to be deaf to the word ‘no’. Agents that have cloth ears.

These are some of the worst things a support agent can do, in the course of their job. In every case, the agent in question has failed because they have not recognised the value of the most important learning experience: that of customer feedback.

The fix: Customer feedback is a superlative learning tool. Even when it is a negative feedback, it still is a learning opportunity. Why? Because it pinpoints exactly where the agent has gone wrong and how. Correcting this will not only help in improving the quality of the support offered but how the agent responds and how he / she rectifies the errors will go a long way in gaining them – and their company – brownie points.

When things start to unravel, it is all too easy to blame the customer service agents. But an ill-equipped agent will not be a credit to an organisation and it is in the organisation’s best interests to ensure the agent is not faulted for things beyond his control. After all, a good workman never blames his tools, does he?

Lavanya Donthamshetty

Writer. Apple-lover. Follower of big brands. Interested in talking about all things customer support. Follow me on Twitter @lavanyad