Faking Customer Centricity in the Contact Center is Costly

By July 23, 2014Financial Industry

Author: Kirsten Jepson, Global Marketing Director, Financial Services

Improving the customer experience requires change. And, sometimes, change means a drastic transformation. Appearing to be customer-centric and being customer centric are two different things. Appearance is only skin deep and will be exposed as a façade as soon as a customer service call takes on any depth or challenge.

Financial services organizations are already struggling to rebuild customer trust. To do so, customer centricity cannot just be talked about; it is an initiative that must be purposefully acted upon. Unfortunately, companies across all industries are failing to impress consumers.

The 2012 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer found that the customer experience has worsened since 2010 in the following ways:

• Only 32% said that businesses have increased their focus on providing good customer service—down 5% since 2010
• Only 59% of consumers said businesses meet their expectations—down by 6% since 2010
• In the past year, 55% of consumers who intended to make a purchase, decided not to because of a poor service experience

Consumers demonstrated the importance they place on the quality of service with 66% of them indicating they’d be willing to spend more with a company that they believe provides excellent customer service. This sentiment presents a big opportunity for financial institutions that can walk their talk about the importance of customers to the brand.

It’s also worth noting that 56% of consumers would tell an average of 24 people about every bad customer service experience—up from an average of 16 people in 2010. Therefore, a bad customer experience has a greater probability to impact more than a singular customer relationship. Add in the amplification of social networks and the impact can rise exponentially.

Consumers are savvy and empowered. The costs of bad customer service experiences are high. Taking the initiative to root out the practices that can derail the experience is critical to keeping and growing customer accounts and will contribute to customer advocacy that can bring new business.

8 Signs that your Contact Center is Faking Customer Centricity:

Citing limitations is the go-to response

A customer who is frustrated with a product, account or billing issue does not want to hear that your policies limit the agent’s ability to take action. If the policies covered every situation satisfactorily, there would be no need to staff a contact center. Instead, value must be placed on finding a solution that will resolve the issue. Outright refusal is an indication that the company’s policy is more important than the customer’s business.

Lectures take precedence over conversations

Customers do not call the contact center to receive a lecture about what they should have known or done during the situation they experienced. A conversation based on questions that help customer service reps learn what they need to know to resolve the issue will establish empathy and caring that can defuse the situation. Based on what is learned, offering options to understand how the customer prefers to take action will merit a much better response than making sure they know they did the wrong thing or should have known what to do when such an issue occurred.

Customer service agents are focused on “winning the debate”

The job of a customer service agent is difficult on the best of days. When every call answered is another problem to be solved, enthusiasm and compassion can wear thin, challenging even the best-intentioned agents to become reactive. The urge to be right can become overwhelming in such situations.

Customers will sometimes bend facts to support their perspective and stubbornly refuse to concede. Frustrated customers can often appear irrational. Even if their issue is justified, the customer will often attack the institution—or the agent—rather than focus on the problem at hand. The agent must be able to overcome the need to be right and focus on solving the problem. A rude customer service agent is the top reason that customers choose to switch brands.

“Ignorance is bliss” is standard operating procedure

When a customer chooses to do business with a financial institution, there are implicit and explicit promises made by the brand that set their expectations. When those expectations are not met, dissatisfaction grows. Failing to acknowledge and correct the situation will only exacerbate the issue.

Obviously, mistakes do happen. Customer service agents must seize the opportunity to impress the customer, prove the issue was a legitimate mistake (if so) and correct it. Paying lip service without follow-up will make any further promises made by the brand to the customer unbelievable, rendering the brand incompetent in the customer’s eyes—and likely to their social network.

Acronyms “R” Us

Financial accounts are often full of legalese that is difficult to understand for even the most educated customers. Using jargon and acronyms specific to the industry without regard for the customer’s comfort level or ability to understand them will only cause further frustration.

In fact, customers put in this situation will often end the call and then call back to speak with another agent to get their questions answered in a way they can understand. This not only adds to the cost to serve, but diminishes your brand’s value for the affected customer.

Forfeiting the game is okay

A brand will never be able to satisfy every single customer, but a willingness to forfeit customers who align with their preferred-customer profile is lazy and doesn’t make business sense. Very few issues are unfixable if an organization is willing to go the extra mile to make the frustration fade into a distant memory. In fact, resolving the issue can lead to more business from the customer. Customer value should not be underestimated, even when viewed from the perspective of the damage they could do via social media that could lessen other customer’s loyalty. It’s important for the agent to be able to put the customer’s issue into context and take the next steps toward resolution. The effort to do so must be reinforced and supported with the appropriate protocols and processes.

Transfers are used as sleight of hand

Being shuffled from one customer service agent to another with no resolution in sight is not an appropriate method for dealing with customer issues. In fact, it’s the second reason why customers take action to switch brands. Quality assurance processes and coaching should ensure that agents have the ability to do everything within their power to resolve issues before resorting to a transfer. If a transfer is necessary, it is imperative to make sure that the customer understands why and what will happen when their call is transitioned.

Walking the Customer-Centric Talk

Customer centricity is measured by meaningful actions that put the customer front and center—not by saying your institution values the customer, but by proving it. Putting processes in place to weed out the imposter behaviors is an imperative for quality assurance.

While each of the signs above can masquerade as customer service, the intentions behind them and the customer’s perceptions of the experience they receive are the defining factors for a truly customer-centric organization. Communication that’s clear and consistently focused on the customer’s best interests is the key to an organization willing to expend the effort to walk their talk.

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