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3 Problematic Customer Experience Statements That Left Me Baffled

Brian Cantor

While we in the customer contact community do not agree on every point, we generally share the same cognizance of some core philosophies.  We know about the era of customer centricity, omnichannel revolution, frictionless experience and rise of automation.  We know that happy agents yield happy customers, and we know that personalization is the key to making connections.

It is important, however, to step outside that bubble.  The philosophical concepts we treat as rhetorical gospel do not always dictate strategic practice.  Many brands, whether due to an errant understanding of customer centricity or the misguided belief that customer centricity is not practical, do not actually deliver the ideal customer experience.

Many customer service “outsiders,” moreover, operate without an awareness of our community’s rhetoric.  They make assumptions about customer service that, while perhaps grounded in jaded reality, are not befitting the principles we hold dear.

I recently encountered three problematic customer service statements.  They are highlighted below.

The first reflects a “mainstream” view of customer service that should be (but, sadly, may not be) inconsistent with how brands and customers are actually engaging.  The second reflects a policy that spits in the face of a pro-customer mentality.  The third examines an idealistic concept that has “gone wrong” in practice.

“Using a social network to contact a travel company may sound counterintuitive” – Washington Post

For the life of me, I cannot quite understand what is unintuitive (let alone counterintuitive) about the concept of social customer care.

Customers communicate via social media (including Facebook Messenger, the focus of the article) on a regular basis.  They know how to express their thoughts in that channel.  They feel comfortable in that channel.  They fully expect their peers to feel comfortable in that channel.

They, moreover, are living in the era of customer centricity.  They exist in a marketplace with an important rule of engagement:  the customer – not the business – dictates the forum of the conversation.

Collectively, these points underscore a simple reality: customer care absolutely should be happening in social media.

Phone and email conversations, as a reminder, were not created for the exclusive purpose of customer service.  They became default customer service options by virtue of their ubiquity in the everyday lives of customers.  With social media now essentially as ubiquitous (and actually more popular among some key demographics), it is utterly intuitive that brands would support customers via avenues like Facebook Messenger.

While this rant may seem like an attack on the author of the article, it is more appropriately viewed as a criticism of today’s businesses.  The author would not be presenting social customer care as some unusual, groundbreaking concept if brands were universally delivering great experiences via social networks.  If brands were truly committed to “going where their customers are,” the idea of providing customer support over Facebook would be as intuitive and obvious as the idea of finding out a human adult has a Facebook account.

“We don’t take online coupons”

A few months ago, I encountered this baffling policy at a Manhattan supermarket.  Given that we’re living in the 21st century, I assumed the particular store was a rare, behind-the-times anomaly.

I was wrong.  Earlier this week, I received the same objection at a different, typically more customer-centric supermarket.  Online reading suggests many other customers have also encountered the “no online coupons” objection.

The rule is preposterous on a number of levels.

For starters, positioning “online coupons”  as some sort of unique animal requires turning a blind eye to the state of the world.  The Internet is not some fringe concept; it is a fundamental part of life in 2018.  It is how most businesses communicate with their customers.

It, more relevant to this conversation, is how many businesses choose to distribute coupons.  Aware that consumers are not as eagerly buying newspapers or checking their mail, brands rely on online channels to market their products, share coupons and drive sample purchases.

In 2018, “online coupons” are more appropriately described as “coupons.”

The objection seems to be rooted in past instances of “coupon fraud.”  While I can appreciate that concern, I can’t accept its relevance in the modern conversation.

Today’s leading manufacturers and online coupon vendors generally use bar codes that can be scanned at the point of purchase.  They also have clear redemption instructions for the retailer.  That combination of technology and information provides a pretty solid “check” on fraud.

“We can only accept coupons that scan” is a far more reasonable objection than “we don’t accept online coupons in 2018.”

And even if some problematic coupons slip through the cracks, I’m not sure the harm of those rare “losses” outweighs the cost of strictly enforcing a “no online coupons” policy.

Patently refusing to accept online coupons essentially urges those with coupons (including unquestionably legitimate ones) to take their business elsewhere.  Their business, in this case, is not just the cost of the product on which they’re using the coupon but other purchases as well.

It, moreover, sends an anti-customer message (we don’t trust you, we don’t want to give you the benefit of the doubt, we don’t want to help you save money) in the era of customer centricity.

“We don’t take online coupons” is a symptom of the antiquated “policy culture” that dictates so many customer service functions.  Far too many brands build policies and training around scenarios in which they must say “no” to customers.  They should instead be emphasizing ideas for saying “yes.”

“We don’t care about handle time”

Okay, I’ll admit it.  My peers and I deserve some of the blame for this one.

The notion of “ignoring efficiency metrics in favor of customer metrics” was popularized by the customer experience thought leadership community.  About a decade ago, members of this community emphasized the idea of “strategic engagement” over “transactional communication.”  Instead of rushing customers off the phone, agents should be meaningfully connecting with each and every customer.

While the intent was admirable, the specific advice was misguided.  It conflated “customer centricity” with “lengthy calls.”

In reality, most customers prefer concise, speedy, frictionless interactions.  They appreciate tailored experiences, but they rarely want to engage in deep, lengthy conversations.  They are not at all asking for “strategic calls.”

The fact that so many brands are trumpeting their opposition to AHT is, accordingly, problematic.  No, an organization should not be emphasizing average handle time at the expense of satisfactory customer interactions, but it should absolutely be cognizant of the role speed plays in driving that satisfaction.  Slow calls are not necessarily a sign of customer centricity.  Sometimes – most times, in fact – they are just indicative of inefficient, ineffective and ultimately poor customer experiences.

Beyond the relevance for increasing customer satisfaction, “handle time” remains vital from a workforce management standpoint.

Even sharp “AHT” detractors acknowledge its importance in measuring workflow and identifying scheduling needs.  Efficiency metrics, moreover, help the business diagnose flaws and opportunities in the customer experience.  If certain issues or agents consistently have high handle times, the business can identify – and remedy – the problematic situations.