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When customer service goes from bad to worse

David Taber | June 28, 2013
The root causes of the worst customer service and support problems usually stem from bad decisions and sloppy actions in upstream departments. These poor choices make it all too easy for otherwise-innocent service reps to make a bad situation worse

This real-life customer service example comes from the cable TV industry, which is famous for dysfunctional customer support that's exposed in its purest form where it really counts: Right after a customer signs up. Since this situation has been true for years, it appears to have been an intentional choice.

For clues, just read Dilbert for a few weeks. Since most cable operators grew by acquisition, their IT systems are a crazy-quilt of partially integrated systems that would cost a fortune to really fix. As the cable companies face lots of competition andcustomer churn, they feel compelled to offer lots of new services and limited-time offers before the operational systems are ready to support them.

Our focus here is the downstream area. Let's look at the CRM and customer support issues that stem from a "vanilla" service install order. Every step of the process offers a look at how poorly integrated systems quickly make customer service go from bad to worse.

Website: Lipstick on the Pig
The initial order was made on the company website, which was snazzy and reassuring as it took the order and scheduled the installation visit. Minutes later, another system automatically sends a confirmation email, and it was clear that the installation visit time-slot needed to be changed.

That email includes a link that says, "Click here to change the appointment time." That link brings the user to a website registration wizard, which indicates that a new user account has to be set up. That wizard can't be completed, but it also won't present an error message. The user tries three separate browsers and gets same no-go, no-error condition all three times. From there, the website offers the option to "Chat with a support agent."

Customer Chat: Assuming Lowest Common Denominator
Since this is a website problem, the chat-agent approach seems to be a reasonable approach. But at the start of the chat session, there's no self-categorization or other self-selection for the customer, so the chat workload is an undifferentiated mass. The chat agent pool must assume lowest common denominator-and that means the chat agent can't be very good.

In this instance, not only is the chat agent trying to service probably 20 concurrent sessions, she had poor English language skills, no real knowledge of the business process and no access to the system the user's interacting with. Bad choices in the customer service department caused every one of those issues, each the result of an effort to look "with it" and keep costs down.

Net result: No progress. Process wastes one hour of IM chat agent time and one hour of customer time. So the customer grabs his phone.


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