What are the biggest barriers to customer service?

In the run up to National Customer Service Week, Paul Clark, CEO of Charter UK, reveals the Top 10 errors that are hindering companies from providing superior customer service on a consistent basis.

1. Failure to resolve a complaint at first point of contact
We are increasingly becoming a self-serve generation, which means we only contact an organisation when we have a problem. As such, contact centre call volumes are going down but call durations are increasing. With complaints becoming more complex, the ability to solve complaints or route them to the people who can help is a key issue for companies to overcome.

2. Realising that ‘wow’ is out, ‘easy’ is in
A lot of organisations focus on trying to wow their customers but then struggle to identify exactly what constitutes exceptional service. More often than not, pleasing your customers comes not from rolling out the red carpet but from reducing the effort it takes for them to do business with you, and consistently delivering the experience they expect. A good voice of the customer programme will show a business what its customers want so it can meet those needs.

3. Inability to connect the dots
In order to understand a customer’s wants and needs, firms need to have a comprehensive view of their customers – across different product lines and sales channels. Therefore integrated customer feedback systems are now a need-to-have, rather than a nice-to-have. A single customer service rep should be able to deal with a customer’s complaint immediately by using an integrated system that enables them to understand the problem and take action immediately, rather than leaving customers waiting on hold or passing them from department to department, which is a huge driver of discontent.

4. Not defining what constitutes a ‘complaint’ effectively
Modern businesses need to teach their employees that the real definition of a complaint is any expression of customer dissatisfaction. Many organisations still think that a customer complaint needs to be a formal process that includes the word ‘complaint’, but that’s not true. Employees should be trained to identify and address any customer concerns straight away, before they escalate. For example, if the customer sounds unhappy but doesn’t explicitly say why, it’s the job of the customer service agent to probe a little deeper.

5. Restricting the channel that customers can use to make contact
Organisations must make it easy for customers to get their complaint resolved via the channel of their choice, whether that is by letter, email, telephone or social media. Companies that force their customers to use cumbersome web forms or expensive phone lines to contact customer services are making two giant mistakes: first, they are actively discouraging customers from accessing the help they need to resolve any problems quickly and second, they are missing out on the chance to gather precious customer insight that could help them to improve their own internal processes.

6. Introducing the human touch where needed
Even in today’s 24/7 web-enabled world, customers still value the human touch. Companies not only need to understand their customers’ preferences in terms of making initial contact, but also need to identify when customers may be getting frustrated. Introducing some human interaction at the right time, via web chat for example, can turn customer from annoyed to advocate in seconds.

7. Responding to customer complaints via social media
Not getting their complaint or enquiry resolved at the first point of contact is one of the biggest drivers of dissatisfaction and why many customers turn to social media. Trying to resolve a complaint in such a public forum only magnifies the exposure a single complaint garners, causing reputational and brand damage. Earlier this year we saw someone pay for a sponsored tweet to complain about British Airways on Twitter – and tactics like these are likely to become even more popular. Businesses must be willing and able to give disgruntled consumers their immediate attention, rather than waiting for a social media firestorm to spur them into action.

8. Treating new customers differently from existing customers
Whether it is a special offer that is available to new customers only, or an online chat facility that is only available during the sales process, tactics like these are sure to alienate existing customers and prevent them from engaging with the company. The result? Expensive customer ‘churn’ and the destruction of customer loyalty.

9. Identify the cause, fix the problem
A lot of businesses are happy to conduct polls and surveys in order to understand the perception of the brand, how to improve, what products need to be changed, and so on – however surprisingly few businesses really take any action with this information. Identifying the root cause of a problem – and then fixing it – will always be the best way to improve customer satisfaction, boost retention, and enjoy the economic benefits related to more effective systems and processes.

10. Using customer feedback to drive improvements
Customer satisfaction aside, the other key benefit of customer feedback is the insight that it can provide to businesses. Because this information can help firms to see their systems and processes from the customer’s point of view, it can often help to prevent unexpected processing errors, customer-service bottlenecks and other inefficiencies from causing irreversible damage to the brand. Of course, this feedback doesn’t only come from customers: employees, too, can often provide incredibly useful insight due to their position on the frontline of customer contact.

Paul Clark, CEO of Charter UK says: “National Customer Service week gives British businesses the chance to celebrate great customer service, and there are clearly many companies making great strides in this area. However, there are still many hurdles to overcome if companies are to maintain this focus for the rest of the year.