5 Things That Irritate Customers

Brian Cantor

Since a customer support interaction is, itself, an unwanted endeavor, customers are naturally sensitive to any snags in the process. Shortcomings – whether related to the people, processes or technology powering the service – add fuel to the fire of frustration.

A recent Consumer Reports study identified the most notable customer service "irritants."

Below, we look at the Top 5 – and provide relevant context and guidance.

Can’t get a live person on the phone: 75% "highly annoyed"

"Long live the call center."

On the surface, this statistic reflects an ongoing preference for live agent interaction. We may live in an increasingly omni-channel world, but the majority of today’s customers still see human-to-human, telephony-based contact as the centerpiece of customer service.

It is important, however, to ask why. Do customers truly prefer live agent interactions? Or, have they been conditioned to believe that live agent interactions are more efficient, productive and fruitful than interactions via self-service, web, mobile or social channels?

In my article "I Don’t Really Want to Call You," I posited the latter. I shared that my motivation for calling support is not necessarily out of a preference for telephony but out of a perceived need to use telephony.

In truth, I would much rather handle support issues through simple, low-touch, digital means. If those alternative channels were as functional as telephony, I would never call a customer support line.

Unfortunately, they rarely are.

In the short-term, businesses cannot ignore the data: if customers say they prefer telephony, they must offer customers the chance to engage via live agent phone calls.

On a big picture level, businesses should nonetheless be questioning why telephony remains the clear support preference in a world in which people often prefer texting and Tweeting for their everyday conversations. Specifically, they should question whether customers are complaining about live agent availability because they prefer live agents or because they believe they need live agents to achieve their goal.

If the answer is the latter, improving the telephony channel is not the only directive. Businesses must also improve the efficacy of alternative channels.

Customer service is rude or condescending: 75%

"Hire the smile, train the skill."

Technology malfunctions. Resources are limited. The customer service process will never be perfect.

Imperfection should not, however, exist on the emotional front. In a marketplace that hails customer-centricity as its definitive religion, there is no excuse for agents to be anything less than delightful on the phone. It is for that reason that personality and warmth are pivotal criteria for new agent hires.

Smart recruiting is only one piece of the puzzle. The attitudinal issue is also rooted in corporate culture – and how management chooses to pass that culture down to its front line.

Management needs to not only tell agents that the customer’s needs and emotions come first but train, compensate, promote and fire in accordance with that philosophy. The second an agent is allowed to believe that the customer is not always right, that the customer is ever undeserving of elite, cordial care or that a "business" policy trumps customer satisfaction is the customer service process breaks down.

Disconnected: 74%

In the previous section, I wrote that technological malfunctions are inevitable.

That does not, however, mean they are excusable.

When customers endure the unwanted burden of calling customer service, it is often because the relevant product did not "just work" in its promised manner.

Imagine the additional frustration that emerges when the support process does not "just work!"

Substantively and emotionally satisfying a frustrated customer is itself a challenge. Attempting to do so when the systems facilitating the interaction fail is an impossibly daunting one.

Businesses must be mindful of this reality. They must monitor – and measure – systemic quality with the same ferocity they do conventional "performance metrics."

Disconnected and Unable to Reach the Same Rep Again: 71%

A disconnection is itself a nuisance. It, itself, requires the exertion of additional effort.

That effort – and resulting frustration – is greatly compounded if the customer cannot immediately resume his interaction upon reconnecting.

Every second of every call represents unwanted consumption of a customer’s time. While no business can give that time back to a customer, it can at least assure that the time is not wasted. It can at least assure that every second spent – and every bit of effort exerted – brings a customer closer to his desired resolution.

If a customer cannot reconnect with the same representative and thus needs to re-establish the emotional context of the call (if not the specifics of himself and his issue), the time he devoted was not well-spent. It was wasted.

His unwanted effort, consequently, did not even come with any reward.

While a customer’s frustration with having to repeat himself may manifest as a desire to speak to the same agent upon reconnecting, it is important to question whether that desire is a product of true preference or conditioning.

Some customers may indeed like the agent with whom they are speaking – and thus want to assure they can reconnect with that person. Others, however, may be articulating that preference because it is the only way they can assure no time is lost. It is the only way they can be sure they will be able to resume their ongoing transaction.

In today’s age of the connected, omni-channel contact center, that notion is problematic. All agents – across all channels – should have complete, real-time access to all details about a customer’s profile and support transactions. Any agent, therefore, should be able to seamlessly step into an ongoing interaction.

They may not be able to instantly replicate the emotional rapport, but they should be readily able to continue resolving the issue without reiterating any background, qualification or identification questions.

If contact centers, through proper training and effective knowledge management systems, can achieve that reality, customer frustration over not being connected to the same agent will likely subside.

Transferred to a Representative Who Can’t Help or Is Wrong: 70%

Two factors typically serve to motivate transfers:

1) The customer, believing the existing representative cannot solve the problem, demands to speak to someone he believes carries the authority to provide a desirable resolution.

2) The agent, due to pressures from performance metrics or frustration with the customer to whom he is speaking, passes off the burden of that particular interaction.

Both add complication and effort to the support process. Neither, therefore, is desirable.

The desirability factor decreases even more greatly, meanwhile, if the transfer does not prove fruitful.

A customer will never love a transfer, but he will be more inclined to tolerate it if the transfer results in the desired resolution. If a customer shifts from a confused, ineffectual or disinterest agent to one with the power and drive to provide a result, he will view the transfer as a net victory.

If, however, the burden of the transfer creates the additional burden of a second unproductive, let alone inaccurate, interaction, there will be no compensatory glee. There will only be a compounded sense of dissatisfaction.

As with the disconnected call issue, the most appropriate business response is to create a truly seamless, omni-channel, integrated network of knowledge. All agents – across all offices and channels – should have access to the customer’s information, the transactional information and the related product and support information. All agents should be in position to properly address the call.

They should also be empowered to answer the call. "Approval" should never be a prerequisite for transferring a call. But in the event that it is, the person to whom the call was transferred must absolutely have the needed approval.

Businesses must also rethink transfer protocol. Agents should never feel pressured to pass the baton to artificially reduce call times. They should never feel it is acceptable to pass off a "difficult" customer. If a customer is difficult, customer-centric culture dictates that the business and/or agent made him that way. As a result, the agent is accountable for remedying the situation.