I’ve been immersed in studying customer service calls for more than a year now. I’ve gotten very attuned to how customer service representatives handle requests, and I’ve drawn one major conclusion: nice is nice, but effective beats it hands down.
I have to confess that I hadn’t crystallized this thought until I read “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers,” by Matthew Dixon, Kathy Freeman, and Nicholas Toman, in the July-August Harvard Business Review. This perceptive article is full of clear thinking and good ideas about what good customer service (both web self-service and telephone service) means.
Most importantly, the authors reject the idea of delighting customers in favor of effectively solving customers’ problems. They underline this theme by referencing their study (through the Corporate Executive Board) showing that customers’ loyalty was only slightly positively affected by great customer service, while disloyalty was heavily influenced by poor service. In other words, you can’t create (too much) loyalty by over-the-top service, but you can easily drive customers away with lousy service.
This helps explain something I’ve witnessed among companies that take intense pride in their customer service: what seems like great service from the rep’s point of view may not be great service from the customer’s point of view. One example is the question of whether or not to transfer the call. When a customer has a technical problem, it’s ideal if the first person who answers the phone can solve the problem. However, a timely transfer to a tech is far preferable to a rep spending countless minutes researching knowledge bases to try to learn about an unfamiliar issue.
Another area Dixon, Freeman and Toman focus on is on preventing downstream calls. As they explain, this is not the same as first call resolution (FCR), because it’s possible to resolve a customer’s issue (thereby achieving FCR) but not head off a forseeable next call. An example: helping a customer find and download a wild new mobile app may answer the customer’s specific question, but if the rep explains how to use the app, the customer won’t need to call back.
“Stop Trying…” is well worth reading in full. It provides a fresh look at customer service and helps remind us (me) that great customer service is about solving problems. If only the CEO of a certain broadband service provider, which I called no fewer than four times to solve a critical service interruption and which offered an appointment 5 days later as a solution, had read it. [Mr. Roberts, that means you.]