In an increasingly complex world deluged with communication overload, it’s more important than ever for customer service reps to provide accurate and complete information. Unfortunately, it’s ever-more-challenging to do this, especially when the issues involved are emergent and/or complex in their own right. Pandemic-triggered efforts to relieve both personal and business suffering have provided huge insight into what happens when highly-sophisticated and complex relief efforts collide head-on with customer service requirements to interpret, inform and advise. In many cases, customer service communication has been rife with inaccuracy and incomplete information. This is a major customer disservice.
At a time when accurate and complete customer service information is more critical than ever, the opposite outcome is occurring all too often. Customer service reps facing the dual challenges of hugely confusing directives coupled with inadequate training are inflicting major harm on consumer futures.
Operating on this inaccurate and incomplete information, customers are making decisions counter to their best self-interests. In the case of government-initiated pandemic relief measures, this is driving anxiety, poor financial planning, and fear in the consumer sector.
In some cases, customers reaching out multiple times for solid advice get different answers every time from different customer service reps. While this is terrible customer service, it’s a symptom of a much larger disease—companies unable or unwilling to do what’s necessary to provide consistent, accurate and complete information.
At the heart of much of this is inadequate training. Facing a huge influx of customers needing to help to wade through pandemic-triggered measures and relief, there’s both a demand and supply problem. Demands for help are often overwhelming customer service systems. Rapid, rampant hiring to meet demand is resulting in a short supply of training and direction.
As a result, it’s led to Wild West scenarios where anything goes. Providing incorrect answers and inconsistent direction is leaving customers on tenterhooks, not knowing where to turn next or how to get the right information to address their circumstances.
In turn, customers are either making wrong decisions that can massively impact their lives going forward, are putting their heads in the sand because of rampant anxiety and fear, or are having to expend inordinate amounts of time attempting to find the right answers and solutions. Given that time already is in short supply for most, dealing with this type of challenge can be overwhelming—and wind up putting people over the edge. That’s a surefire recipe for bad decision-making.
It’s easier said than done. Mega-corporations employing huge numbers of customer service reps tasked with handling the surge of consumer communications and requests for financial assistance have a Herculean challenge. Still, they need to do better. Steps to start improving include:
Enhance commitments to training, including more onboarding over longer periods of time. Too often, under-trained reps are providing bad information—which is worse than providing nothing at all. Even at the expense of increasing hold times, at least temporarily, this must be addressed. The damage being done by reps providing inaccurate and incomplete information can be devastating on multiple levels—ranging from customers to the company itself;
Rev up the escalation processes so that first-line reps unable to confidently address issues can hand off people to higher-ups in the organization who can offer better information. The oft-used current process of putting customers on hold while the rep checks it out upstairs can be faulty. Unless that rep does an accurate job of documenting the issue with a manager, it becomes subject to miscommunication. Where possible, the customer needs to be able to speak directly to someone higher up the food chain;
Enhance development of “ombudsman” centers, where customers feeling unheard or frustrated with conflicting information can get the help of an advocate. These are cropping up increasingly, but more is needed—not just now, but right now.
In today’s trying times, it’s no longer good enough to try to do better. Solid customer service depends on complete and accurate information. Companies need to gear up to provide it.