Anyone who’s ever tried Bikram Yoga has probably found themselves cursing the friend, family member, or co-worker who suggested it. Man, that crap is painful! As soon as you walk in the 105°F room you feel like you can’t breathe. You legitimately worry that you might die.
And that’s before the class even starts. Ninety minutes later (and 5 pounds of sweat lighter) you crawl out of the studio amazed to still be alive. And don’t get me started on Pilates or CrossFit. I wasn’t able to walk properly for three days after doing those.
It’s amazing the amount of discomfort, inconvenience, and mental anguish the average person is willing to subject themselves to in order to get in shape. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think people actually enjoy suffering. However, I do know better. And I know that people don’t actually like to suffer needlessly.
While people might be willing to endure hours of self-imposed torture (not to mention boredom) on a treadmill to look a little better in a bathing suit, nobody is willing to put up with that same degree of pain and suffering when calling their bank, cable company, or satellite television provider.
Yet many companies seem to go out of their way to make things as difficult, complicated, and painful for customers as possible. Or these companies are, in the very least, oblivious to the anguish and frustration they are causing their customers by subjecting customers to cumbersome and unwieldy web self service sites, telephone IVR menus, and rigid call center business processes.
Companies, understandably, want to organize their websites, IVRs, and call centers in a manner that steer customers towards objectives that benefit the company e.g., “Press 1 to hear about our great new products, press 2 for sales, press 3 to transfer to our low cost automated self-service app.” Only at the very end of the list, if you are lucky, do you get “press 99 for all other inquiries or to speak to a living-breathing customer service agent”.
It’s hard to blame companies for wanting to pitching relevant marketing offer or product upsells, or for hoping to drive customers to the lower cost support channels when applicable. However, it is easy to blame companies for abusing these tactics and making an already agitated customer (nobody calls the call center just to chit chat) sit through a five minute litany of annoying advertisements and promotional pitches before allowing them to speak to a customer service agent.
What’s needed is balance. Studies have shown that the best way to increase customer loyalty is to reduce the “amount of effort” that customers have to expend to get an issue resolved. Scott Heitland of Pretium Solutions wrote an wonderful blog post, “How Many Angry Customers Are You Creating at $15 Each?” that looks at what happens when companies put their own corporate goals and policies ahead of the best interests of their employee and customer.
Scott gives an amusing example of a company that had a mail-in rebate program that required customers to include the UPC code from the product box; but the problem was that the box actually had 3 different UPC codes and many customers submitted the wrong one. When the company’s executives where asked why the UPC code was required, they admitted it was something they had been requiring for years but that they had no idea why.
In the comments section of his blog post, Scott goes on to share a few personal anecdotes about his interactions with various call centers and his observation that, in general, most call center agents really want to be able to help the customer, but that they are often hand-cuffed by corporate policies and regulations. I could not agree more with his closing statement” “Remove obstacles for your call agent agents, and they will do the same for your customers.”
And I must admit, that as a long-term CRM professional I was horrified to hear him recount how one call center agent remarked that she is best able to resolve customer issues when her CRM system goes down (I’m assuming she’s not using SAP, but rather some flimsy cloud-based vendor) as it is during those moments that she has the freedom to do whatever is necessary to resolve the customer’s issue. Yikes, that is painful indeed!
Hopefully the takeaway here is not that we need CRM systems to crash more often, but rather that we need to design our CRM and call center processes to be more customer (and employee) oriented. Don’t make customers jump through hoops in order to access your online content on your Web site. Don’t require callers bend over backwards or stand on their heads to speak to an actual customer service agent.
The last thing you want is for your customers to work up a sweat or pull a muscle while dealing with your call center. Pain, sweat, and ice packs have their place – but it’s in the gym, not the customer service department.