If you spend any time at all on Reddit, you can easily find many examples of customer support incidents that have enraged customers. They are willing to share these experiences publicly online, and sometimes even naming names.
This, of course, is very bad for business – not to mention a bad strategy for retaining customers and reducing churn. For example, 33% of Americans have said they will switch companies after just one bad service experience. That’s a frightening thought!
We all know working in customer support is a difficult job, and bad customer experiences are a result of a number of factors. One significant factor is that unhappy customers are frequently emotionally charged.
There’s something called Customer Effort Score, which SaaS businesses can benefit from striving for: it means making it as easy possible for customers to interact with your business. And as SaaS companies, we are in the relationship-building business. We want to make our customers feel happy working with us over time, in a way that is sustainable and not too much of a drain on our resources.
“We’re not competitor-obsessed, we’re customer-obsessed. We start with what the customer needs and we work backwards,” says Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.
1. When You Don’t Value The Customers’ Time
Not valuing your customer’s time is a big faux pas. All too often, it takes too long for customers to reach a live agent; or it’s more difficult than it should be to find the right information.
Customers can also get frustrated when they have to repeat their problem or personal details multiple times. It reveals that your systems are not set up with customers in mind.
The data shows that as the complexity of an issue increases, customers are more likely to seek help on the phone. The top reason that people don’t like calling a company is not being able to speak to a real human straight away.
This faux pas is typically quite inherent to your operational systems, rather than totally being the fault of individual agents. The reason might be because you don’t have enough support reps to handle your volume of customers, resulting in long phone queues. Or it could be that you haven’t produced any documentation that could deflect Level Zero Solvable tickets.
Make it as easy as possible for customers to reach you on the channel of their choice. Invest in your agents, and your customers.
2. When You Don’t Provide A Robust Self-Service Option
Customers expect to be able to access a self-service knowledge base. More than six out of ten US customers said their default channel for simple enquiries was digital self-service. A knowledge base is the most frequently used of all the self-service channels by customers.
This is because, typically speaking, customers want to help themselves. They don’t mind talking to a human, but that involves taking action and waiting for someone else to respond. Today’s customers are heading straight to Google – 47% of customers say they always search online first for a customer service question.
Providing a helpful customer knowledge base actually eases the strain on your support team. It allows you to do more with less – as long as you have appropriately invested in your content.
It means the most common customer queries are addressed in your help content, and your agents can spend their time helping customers with the more complex issues.
3. When You Fail To Understand The Problem
This one’s a bit like the reverse of not valuing your customer’s time – support reps are so eager to get them off the phone (maybe due to internal pressure) that they end up failing to take the time to truly understand the problem at hand.
Often, angry customers will prefer it if you listen to them explain their problem – before trying to solve it. Anything else is perceived as an interruption.
“When customers share their story, they’re not just sharing pain points. They’re actually teaching you how to make your product, service, and business better,” says Kristin Smaby, in “Being Human is Good Business”. Once you have heard the customer, they will better be able to hear what you have to say.
Give your customer support reps the support they need to devote as much time as they need to every customer.
4. When They Have To Change Channels
Customers do not view your business through the lens of channels: their perception of your brand is as a single entity. That’s why they tend to reach out to businesses on the channels that are most convenient for them.
Your internal team structure and bureaucracy is nothing to them – although the majority of customers are usually understanding of these kinds of constraints.
It’s even worse, though, if customers have to change channels after they have already contacted support. What’s the point in offering live chat if you only have to instruct customers to “call this number”? More than 35% of customers expect to be able to contact the same support representative on any channel.
That’s a lot of pressure for businesses, and problems arise when your business’s vision isn’t unified. The answer?
Make sure your agents are empowered to use the channel of their choice to communicate with customers – whether that’s email, video call, phone call, or instant messenger.
5. When They Are Shunted to Different Departments
It’s a faux pas when customers have to repeat themselves, because you’re not properly equipped to handle their problem.
It happens like this. Your customer calls your helpline, and explains their problem – only to be told that they need to call a different number to speak to someone else. Then they have to explain their problem again, and go through another security process. The same thing happens when customers send in an email and you forward it to a different department.
This is something akin to treating your customers like a number. In the early days of a startup, it is usually somebody like the CEO who handles all the customer enquiries. Providing exceptional customer service is then truly personal.
As the company grows, things change. That’s typically when customer service starts being viewed as more of a cost-center. This is a toxic creep. “Customer service shouldn’t just be a department, it should be the entire company,” says Tony Hsieh, Founder and CEO of Zappos.
You need to stay vigilant about keeping customers at the heart of the business, even as you diversify into different departments for efficiency. Ideally, anyone in the company should have the ability to help your customers.
6. When Information Is Out Of Date
So you’ve provided your customers with online answers, but that information is out of date. That can be even more infuriating than providing no answers at all. Wrong information erodes trust in your business and wastes your customers’ time.
Remember that the top five of your help articles represent 40% of all daily views. That means you don’t have to create all that many articles to ensure that your content is helpful. Make sure your knowledge base is focused, even if you don’t have the time or resources to document everything.
Schedule the requisite amount of time for a regular content review. Set reminders for yourself to regularly review your top 5 articles, if nothing else.
And make sure customer-facing documentation is part of your Minimum Viable Product whenever you ship a new version or feature. Bake documentation into your team’s culture.
7. When You Blame “Company Policy”
Customers are trying to solve a problem with your product – only to be met with a “sorry, that’s just company policy.”
Every company has policies, and there are good reasons for having rules. But sometimes policies seem to exist purely to hinder great customer service. This may reveal that companies are more focused on their own priorities than they are on their customers.
When you try to shut the customer down, this gives the impression that companies are against the customer.
“No amount of advertising can repair the damage done by failing to properly address a customer’s concern,” says Albert Schindler, CEO and entrepreneur.
This problem is also closely related to what customers perceive as the “fake apology” – the “I’m sorry for your inconvenience” classic of customer service platitudes. While a genuine apology can go a long way to repairing a broken relationship with your customers, customers simply want results. And you also need to let them know clearly if your product isn’t right for their needs.
Individual agents can avoid defaulting to the excuse that it’s “company policy”. But on a structural level you must review your organisation to make sure you are best serving your customers.
8. When You Shift The Blame Onto The Customer
Similarly to hiding behind company policy, agents placing the blame squarely on the customer is also not going to have positive results. Blaming customers can also involve using confrontational language (eg “You shouldn’t have done X”).
Always assume that your customer may know something you don’t. Of course, some customers need a lot more help than others, but there’s always the possibility you might be missing something.
As SaaS companies interested in building relationships with customers, we want to make sure that no one is taking the blame – the goal, rather, is to move towards a model of cooperative problem-solving.
“How you think about your customer influences how you respond to them,” says Marilyn Suttle, customer service expert.
Talk to customers as a fellow human, and own responsibility (as a representative of the company) for anything that has gone wrong.
9. When You Fail To Deliver
Customers suffer understandable disappointment when a feature they have been waiting for fails to materialise. They resent having to rely on that workaround, and it’s making their job harder. It’s a faux pas, therefore, when you fail to deliver.
All companies make promises about their products: whether it’s bug fixes, new features, or entirely new product versions. But the reality is that you won’t always be able to deliver on your promises, and life gets in the way of punctuality.
The answer to this faux pas isn’t just to stop making promises to customers. It’s a sign of your organisation’s integrity when you can meet a goal that you set out to pursue – such as designing and implementing a new feature within a given time frame.
The key is to be realistic about what you promise your customers, and ensure you have sufficient resources to deliver your projects on time. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
It’s important to take the time to create “WOW” customer moments, but there’s never a good enough reason to suffer abuse from customers. There’s a difference between understandable frustration, and bullying behaviour. Know when to draw the line.
If you think you don’t have time to help your customers, remember this: after a positive experience with a company, 77% of customers would recommend you to a friend. The return you get for good customer support is new leads, and new customers – at no cost to you!
We need to build robust customer support systems that put customers right at the centre, and hire enthusiastic agents who love to help. Then hopefully more customers will be in the right frame of mind when they approach your business with a problem in the first place.