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Cultivating Positive Relationships Customer Service Opinion

Telling you what you want to hear, not what you need to know

Pandemic-soothing commentary coming from the Trump White House established new, awful standards for telling people what they wanted to hear versus what they needed to know. Factual outcomes dashed hopes, ruined lives, and rendered a horrible disservice to those supposedly being served—the American people.

In an effort to mollify customers or move on quickly to the next, customer service reps too often tell people what they want to hear instead of what they need to know. Ultimately, as we learned all too well with COVID, the consequences can be catastrophic.

Despite this, the pressure to lie in order to placate is pervasive in customer service departments. Supervisors pressure reps to keep conversations short so they can claim high “resolution” productivity. Customer reps not wanting unpleasant confrontations or uncomfortable answering hard questions try to circumvent them. Near-term, many customers feel heard and acknowledged, only to discover later that the issue remains unresolved.

Then, the customer’s anger and frustration multiply. There’s still the original problem. Now, on top of that is a “resolution” never followed through on—eroding trust, wasting time and generally creating ill will at every turn. Ultimately, the company may have to sweeten the pot considerably to retain the customer—again taking more of everyone’s time and lessening productivity.

While some segments of the customer service world are growing more enlightened and dedicated in their pursuit of real resolution, some are going the other way—seemingly emulating Trump and his Minions in the art of deception. Why tell the truth when you can lie and maybe get away with it? Why face hard truths now when you can kick the can down the road for someone else to handle? Why add stress now to my life when I can heap it on other customer service reps dealing with the issue later?

Over time, the disparity between companies providing top-notch and bottom-feeding customer service will become more glaringly apparent. Companies willing to toe the line will experience the rewards in customer retention and revenues. Those playing “dodge ball” will get smacked down and see their revenues going to competitors making the commitment to honest customer service.

What are a couple relatively easy workarounds for companies seeking the enlightened approach but not yet there due to logistical hurdles? (One example is loan servicing companies hiring and training a massive new customer service workforce to handle heightened customer communication demands due to COVID financial challenges.)

One possibility is a simple add-on to the hold message customers hear when calling in for assistance. Currently, many companies start by stating that there may be extended hold times. Add to that something like, “Given the complexity and wide variation of challenges currently being handled, and in the interest of ensuring that we provide accurate and complete information, your matter may require the customer service representative to do some research before responding. Please be patient with us as we work to give you the best and most current information possible.”

Another option is for the agent to impart this type of information while doing the initial vetting of the caller for security and identification purposes.

In some cases, doing both may be the best way for customers to hear the message loud and clear.

Of course, when “further research” requires a callback or other type of response (e.g., email), timely follow-through is critical. And the information provided must, of course, be correct and complete. This is not rocket science. This is basic good common sense, and a necessity for solid customer service—which we need now more than ever.

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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.

Mark Lusky

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