3 Customer Management Myths We Never Should Have "Debunked"



Brian Cantor
11/20/2012

Some rules might be meant for breaking, but not all myths are meant to be debunked.

With the importance of customer management so irrefutable, professionals in the community have a burning desire to relentlessly search for the right answers. No organization’s customer experience is perfect, and as such, at least some best practices must be wrong. Some traditions must be obsolete. Some guidelines must be myths.

Customer management professionals drool over opportunities to break from the norm, paving the way for fresh, imaginative means of bringing their brands closer to their customers. If there is a standard they can throw out the window or flip on its head, they will not hesitate for a second.

But just as some seemingly-illogical rules are best followed simply because parents "said so," some customer management best practices, however illogical on paper, deserve to remain unaltered. They might seem archaic and inconsistent with the realities of the customer base, but when judged from a more holistic, "big picture" perspective, these myths have ample reason to exist. Bunk or not, they are best left alone.

Numerous customer management journalists, analysts, coaches and executives have committed themselves to debunking the below myths, and while their hearts and minds might be driven by the correct intentions, the efforts ultimately have negative ramifications for the customer experience.

Myth: The customer is always right.

Why It’s Bunk: People are irrational, illogical, emotional creatures. They put self-interest ahead of the greater societal good. They let emotions cloud their judgment. They let passion dictate their behavior. When it comes to objectively handling issues with customer service, they most certainly will not always be right.

Why It’s Wrong to Debunk: Newsflash – customers do not call support looking for an objective, impartial analysis of whether they are right or wrong. They call because they know the brand is wrong and know the situation needs fixing.

The brand’s objective, therefore, can only be to satisfy the customer. The brand might not objectively deserve complete culpability, but the contact center agent must absolutely accept complete responsibility for fixing the issue. Since concern for whether or not the customer is truly right inevitably distracts from that objective, it undermines the customer experience.

Because they must support them as such, contact center agents are better off believing the customer truly is always right.

Efforts to debunk this customer service myth are not always rooted in a brand’s unwillingness to compromise with every customer. They do not all begin with a tone-deaf C-level executive who refuses to bend over backwards for every customer whim.

A common motivation for disputing the customer’s righteousness is to comfort agents who endure the often-unforgiving task of dealing with rude, disrespectful and disgruntled customers. Debunking the myth is a reminder from leadership that the agent will not be blamed for every difficult call.

But while this might make sense from a motivational and agent engagement standpoint, it again distracts from the actual objective of the customer interaction. No matter how obnoxious, irrational or inconsiderate, the customer is entitled to the best possible experience, and agents should not at all be conditioned to think otherwise. Empowered call center agents have latitude to think creatively about the best way to satisfy the customer, but by no means can they be permitted to think about whether a certain customer deserves to be satisfied.

Myth: The "traditional" contact center is dead

Why It’s Bunk: Though customers are becoming increasingly comfortable with alternative contact channels, they have yet to find one that completely replaces the phone experience. For all its flaws, a traditional telephone interaction still provides the potential for a direct, in-depth conversation with a live person, and that unique experiential element will remain immensely relevant and valuable for customers.

Why It’s Wrong to Debunk – The inertia of tradition can be costly for any business, and that reality especially rings true when it impacts the ability to support customers. Anything that inhibits a business from adapting to the evolving needs of its customer base is a costly hazard.

Customer management leaders know the traditional contact center. Their strategies might not be flawless, but when it comes to their general proclivities towards creating efficient and effective operations, they are far more comfortable managing phone support than they are service in emerging online and social channels.

If convinced that the call center is dying, these managers will naturally have to adapt themselves—and their departments—to the new channels. They will not be able to hide behind tradition.

Today’s customers might still recognize the value of phone support, but some are definitely beginning to develop preferences for alternative channels, especially when communicating about certain transactional issues. If businesses do not feel a pressure to deliver comprehensive support in those preferred channels, they will irreparably damage their relationships with such customers.

Even in today’s "multi-channel world," many brands will, for instance, ask those Tweeting or live-chatting the brand to call customer service for a more complete experience. They do so because their internal operations are built around the traditional contact center; they can most efficiently support customers in that environment.

Unfortunately, the decision is not the brand’s to make. And if a brand commands social-savvy customers to call customer service because it is unequipped to handle the issue the way the customer wants, it is failing. It is not a customer-centric organization.

Acknowledging the death of the traditional call center might be tantamount to embracing a lie, but it is a sin that yields a greater good. By firmly establishing alternative channels not as support systems for the main customer service phone line but as full-service channels in and of themselves, brands can cement their ability to serve customers the way they are supposed to be served.

Myth: In today’s "age of the customer," there is no place for "efficiency metrics" like average handle time that measure internal agent performance rather than customer satisfaction

Why It’s Bunk: Beyond the very important fact that metrics like average handle time are pivotal in assessing and managing workflow, they also speak directly to the experience a customer is receiving.

Demand for resolution and demand for efficiency are not mutual exclusive; in fact, as far as most customers are concerned, they go unequivocally hand-in-hand. Customers do not want to feel as if their issues are being dismissed or ignored, but they do not necessarily want to waste hours on the phone chatting about life, weather and politics with contact center agents. Speed counts.

Why It’s Wrong to Debunk: Technically, we should have enough faith in our front-line supervisors and agents to distinguish between measuring average handle time and managing for average handle time. That AHT matters in a contact center should not be mistaken as pressure for agents to be destructively short with customers.

Unfortunately, because so many organizations have conditioned their centers to behave as transactional support systems rather than as strategic relationship builders, continued reliance on efficiency metrics will perpetuate the myth that in-depth calls are not welcome. That taking a few minutes to properly listen, diagnose, analyze and resolve is time being thrown down the drain.

More importantly, placing continued value on average handle time supports the similarly-misguided notion that contact center metrics need not be tied to customer satisfaction. This is the "age of the customer," yet in my talks with many high-profile call center leaders, I am consistently shocked by how few of them actually manage against customer satisfaction metrics. Some do not even measure scores related to C-Sat or NPS.

Customer management professionals can debate all they want about whether efficiency metrics are helpful or harmful to the overall customer experience. But instead of making assumptions about customer satisfaction through metrics that only speak to internal operations, why not let true customer satisfaction measurement dictate whether or not efficiency matters?

Why not let emphasis on AHT flow from customer feedback rather than from the personal opinion of an insulated call center manager?

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