Why Does Customer Service Keep Getting Worse?
Consumers everywhere are asking why service quality is in decline as frustration continues to grow. It can often feel as if companies have given up on delivering a satisfying service experience. Executives still talk a good game about the importance of a great customer experience (CX), but reality does not measure up to their claims.
Because a growing percentage of consumers prefer to use self-service, many enterprises focus on improving these solutions and dedicate little effort to enhancing their live agent experience. This isn’t solving the service problem, for two reasons.
First, while enhancements in underlying natural language understanding (NLU) and natural language processing (NLP) technologies are helpful, the self-service solutions using conversational artificial intelligence (AI) lack human reasoning and can’t handle complex interactions. Second, when the self-service environment doesn’t properly address an issue or the situation is emotionally charged or time-sensitive, and so customers request a live agent, they often encounter a person who is not properly trained, informed, or empowered to help them.
Most of us are quick to blame agents for poor service experiences, even though it’s often not their fault. But they’re the ones who have to communicate (and adhere to) what so many consumers perceive to be bad policies. Common examples of annoying and poor service experiences over which agents have no control include these: having to wait in a queue for hours; being offered a callback but not receiving one at the designated time (or at all); having a refund refused because a receipt was lost; having a late fee charged when a bill is lost or a customer did not receive it; when an operating system is changed without customers being informed of it. You get the idea. Hundreds of situations and policies seem calculated to evoke customers’ ire, which is intensified when customers interact with agents who don’t seem to care. (In many cases, agents are burned out from dealing with frustrated customers.)
That brings us to the issue of empathy. Companies seem to think that training agents (live or automated) to be empathetic is the key to a successful service experience. Yes, consumers prefer to work with someone who cares about them and actively listens to or reads what they have to say, but this is only a small piece of what customers expect. They also want to do business with organizations that know who they are and appreciate their business. The failure to achieve this is a major cause of customer dissatisfaction.
All customers are not equal; some buy lots of products and services, and others do not. Companies are in business to make profits and must decide how much to invest in each customer. Sometimes the cost of service far exceeds the customer’s contribution to an organization, making it a bad financial decision in theory to invest substantially in a great CX. At first glance, the math looks simple. But it seems fair for customers to expect basic levels of service regardless of what they spend, unless they go into a relationship understanding that customer service is not part of the deal.
To deliver acceptable levels of service to all customers cost-effectively, agents need the right training, data, systems, and tools. Companies need to invest in digital transformation to accomplish the operational improvements required for them to remain competitive while also delivering a satisfactory CX. The problem today is that many companies are in an awkward phase; they’re only partly digitally transformed, and their operations and self-service systems are not fully updated and properly aligned. This drives customers to agents whose hands are often tied by outdated technology, policies, and procedures that are out of sync with customers’ needs. It’s a situation likely to get worse before it gets better. And because most companies view this through business-centric lenses (and with a focus on the bottom line), they are not considering the negative impact on customers.
In the long term, at least five years off, investments in digital channels and self-service solutions will pay off and CX will improve. The short term, though, will involve plenty of frustration, unless enterprises decide to prioritize customers’ needs as they work through their digital transformations. A few companies will do it right; they’ll move forward aggressively with their transformations without losing sight of customers. These organizations will realize benefits from their initiatives, as consumers will flock to them. The bottom line matters, but companies cannot afford to ignore CX.