Customer Service: An Opportunity Missed

Most companies have customer service that alienates customers. Here's a better idea.

When it comes to customer service and support, most companies appear to have the following strategy:

  1. Get customers to use the website directly for support.
  2. Goal employees on handling service calls as quickly as possible.

I'll explain in a minute why this standard customer service strategy is astronomically bad (and provide a better alternative), but first I'll explain why it's simply ineffective.

The standard customer service strategy makes the following assumptions:

  1. Fewer calls means less cost.  If more customers access the website, you don't need to hire as many customer support people.
  2. More calls per person equals less cost.  A service center that handles 1,000 calls an hour is twice as productive as one that handles only 500 calls an hour.

In other words, customer service is an expense to be minimized.

With this in mind, here's how many companies implement the "send them to the website" part of the strategy:

  1. Customer calls, system picks up.
  2. "Sorry, but all our customer service personnel are busy helping other customers.  Your call is important to us, so we'll be with you shortly.  For faster service access our website,"
  3. 20 seconds of obnoxious music.
  4. "Sorry, but all our customer service personnel are busy helping other customers.  Your call is important to us, so we'll be with you shortly.  For faster service access our website,"
  5. 20 seconds of obnoxious music.
  6. Etc., etc. etc.

Result: the customer either hangs up in disgust and goes to the website, or stays on the line doing a slow burn.

Now, if the customer does stay on the line, things get worse. What usually happens is that the customer ends up talking to a customer service agent who has an incentive to get customers off the line as quickly as possible.

Therefore, if you have a difficult problem (i.e. one likely to be time-consuming) you'll probably be put on hold, because the customer service agent will have better numbers if you hang up.  Meanwhile, the agent takes another call.

Result: the customer either hangs up or stays on the line, doing a slow burn.

The final outcome of the standard customer service strategy is thus thousands of highly irritated and angry customers who will buy elsewhere in the future.

However, there's an even more important reason why the standard customer service strategy is so incredibly stupid.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of salespeople make cold calls in an attempt to engage a customer or potential customer in a conversation about their needs.

Every year, it gets more difficult for salespeople to make these connections.  Today, many salespeople must make 100 cold calls in order to get into one conversation.  Cold calling is an expensive and time consuming process.

So, now, think about customer service for a second.  A customer has called a company and wants to talk to a human being about their needs.  And the strategy is to redirect them to the website? And then to get them off the line?

That's insane!

Here's a better idea.  Goal customer service on:

  1. Solving customer problems with extra credit for solving the difficult ones.
  2. Keeping the customer on the line to determine what else they might need.
  3. Selling add-ons and additional services that better meet the customer's needs.

In other words, treat customer service as an opportunity to create customer loyalty and increase sales, rather than as an expense to be minimized.

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IMAGE: Kaytee Riek/Flickr
Last updated: Oct 10, 2013


Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

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