A Story Of Poor Customer Service And How To Fix It

Mending a Broken Heart

This post originally appeared on my Forbes column.

A few months ago the Consumerist.com website posted a story: To Resolve Some Customer Service Problems, Just Call Back. In the story they advocate that if you are having problems getting the service you want, just call back.

This implies that if you want good service then you should be persistent and go looking for it. Now, this may be a reliable strategy, as a customer, and not unreasonable. I must admit I’ve also found myself calling customer services again and again as I’ve struggled to navigate a particularly cumbersome IVR system or get the answer that I was looking for.

But, is it right that we have to do this?

My wife faced a similar problem, the other day, when she found herself locked out of her bank account. She had done nothing wrong but had to call the bank’s call centre a number of times to try and get it fixed.

Here’s what happened:

  • She noticed the problem;
  • She called the call centre and spoke to someone, went through all of the security protocols and then the problem, supposedly, got fixed by the agent that she spoke to;
  • After waiting for systems to refresh etc, she tried to access her account;
  • The problem persisted;
  • She called back, spoke to a different person, went through the same security procedure, received an apology for any inconvenience and then the agent claimed to have ‘fixed’ the problem;
  • Again, after waiting for systems to refresh etc, she tried to access her account;
  • The problem persisted;
  • By this time my wife was getting very frustrated and quite irate;
  • She then called back again and spoke to another person. This time, the agent had a look around her account settings and their systems and swiftly located the ‘problem’. The agent again apologised for any inconvenience and then stated that they had now fixed the problem;
  • Again, after waiting for systems to refresh etc, my wife tried to access her account.
  • Success! And, a sigh of relief.

Thinking about my wife’s experience caused me to think of a number of questions:

  • Is this good customer service?
  • What’s the effect on the customer experience when something like this happens?
  • How is that some customer service agents can fix things in an instant and others need to be called back again and again to get things fixed?
  • Are they having a bad day?
  • Are they taking exception to the way they are talked to both by customers and their peers/bosses?
  • Is their training sub-par?

I feel frustrated that we, as consumers, have to resort to this sort of behaviour. Putting aside how a customer may feel, how does a CMO or Customer Service Director feel about the fact that a proportion of their customers have to ‘game the system’ to get what they want.

Assuming that there were no technology glitches, what’s obvious from my wife’s experience is that the skill and knowledge levels amongst the agents is not the same.

My experience also tells me that this sort of situation is not uncommon.

Therefore, I think a way to solve this is to identify the ‘super users’ amongst your customer service agents and get them to share their top tricks and tips for dealing with difficult or particular issues?

However, the challenge that organisations face is that many of their ‘super users’ may covet and hoard insight to maintain position and importance. This can be a very human thing (and failing). Knowledge is power and all that. And, they probably believe it keeps them safe.

But, getting that knowledge out in the open and shared amongst colleagues and agents is one of the greatest challenges businesses face when trying to improve their customer service delivery and the overall customer experience.

So, how do you make ‘super users’ share? Here’s a few ideas that, I have found, are proven to work:

  • Identify your ‘super users’;
  • Acknowledge them – we all like a bit of recognition from time to time;
  • Give them an additional title – call them a guru, if that works;
  • Ask them to share their experience;
  • Ask them to mentor and train others;
  • Continue to give them recognition and consider giving them incentives and bonuses to help them along their way;

This may cost a little more, in the round, in terms of time, effort, salaries, bonuses etc. But, committing to this and making it work will pay dividends in your first call resolution (FCR), average handling time (AHT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS) numbers.

Getting people to share their knowledge to help improve your overall level of customer service and customer experience, is a bit like hunting for unspoken and silent complaints (à la the complaints iceberg) that I talked about in my previous post. Some of this stuff doesn’t show up and happen naturally. I know that we always hope it does but it seldom does, in reality.

Therefore, if you want your ‘super users’ to share their skills and insights freely then we have to make that change happen.

If you have this problem in your organisation, I hope this approach helps you get started.


This post originally appeared on my Forbes column.

Thanks to Nicolas Raymond for the image.

6 comments On A Story Of Poor Customer Service And How To Fix It

  • Thanks, Adrian. I wish your wife’s experience was a rare one, but I think we have all had similar experiences. That doesn’t make it OK at all. It’s just a sad state of affairs.

    Your question about calling three different people and getting three different answers, approaches, or fixes is a huge and common problem. These inconsistencies are what drive the “if you are having problems getting the service you want, just call back” mentality. Again, that doesn’t make it right. Companies must fix this by properly training and retraining all reps on an ongoing basis – and sharing best practices and common issues and solutions.

    Inconsistencies are experience killers. Bad experiences are brand killers.

    Annette 🙂

  • Adrian,

    I don’t believe the solution is super users. In an ideal world the business will have fixed the problem in the first time so your wife didn’t have to phone in. If that fails the next best solution is for every agent to be able to answer your wives query, they should be trained to the same level and have access to the same information.

    The issue is that many call centres incentivise their staff individually. So if you have a solution that works there is precisely no reason why you would share it with your colleagues.

    I think that is me of the fence on that one.


    • James,
      Thanks for getting off the fence. I couldn’t agree more with your ideal situation. However, we don’t live in an ideal world so where to start?

      The change you suggest would be a big change for many. Would it not be better to do something to try and create momentum and support for a bigger change?


  • Getting knowledge out of the head of super users and shared consistently across the organisation can be really tricky, as many consider it their USP that gives them extra recognition from their managers and colleagues. A great example of where it was done well is at warranty specialist Domestic & General – it gave its new knowledge management system a name (Fido) and ran a number of workshops to gain buy-in from staff. The result? Customer call times have been cut by 22% and FCR rates are up substantially– see more in the Eptica blog at http://eptica.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/knowledge-management-in-practice-domestic-general/

    • Hi Zuzana,
      Thanks for your comment and for providing a great example of how firms can make this happen and what results they can expect.

      All the best,


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