The Six Most Dreaded Words In Customer Experience

by Christopher Frawley on January 14, 2015

“You’ll Have To Call Customer Service”

As a customer, hearing this is, at minimum, a letdown.  As a customer experience consultant, hearing this represents an experience failure.  Organizations may try to whitewash it away by describing it as “something we’re working on” or “a service irregularity” or “service exception,” but it is simply, a fail.

Real life – stranger than fiction (of course).

My wife has a chain store charge card and because of that, she receives lots of marketing offers and discounts that we take advantage of.  Recently this retailer has decided to launch a loyalty program.  This program is completely separate from being a charge card holder and all the marketing that they’re already directing our way.  A separate enrollment application is required with no apparent linking to the charge account.  There’s nothing going on to make it easy to enroll for those customers that have an established relationship with the store already.  The fact that we may get some additional offers and discounts in addition to what we already receive sounded enticing enough, so we signed up for the program.

Some months later I’m with my wife and we’re paying for our purchases at this store.  We’ve had a pretty good shopping experience so far.  At the end of the transaction I remember that we’re members of this new program and ask the clerk if the purchase can be credited to our loyalty account.

Then the dreaded words come – “you’ll have to call customer service with your receipt number and they will credit you.”  My response, “can’t you do that right here?”  The clerk’s response, “No, you’ll have to call.”

So on top of a completely perplexing loyalty program structure that has no tie in to an already loyal customer (who is using the private store charge card), the firm can’t credit purchases to the new program once the sales transaction is done at the point of sale?  Wow !

(Note: This fail at the end of the experience also imprints a strong negative impression in memory.  If this retailer understood the Peak-End Rule as described by Behavioral Economist Daniel Kahneman, they would be doing everything they could to make the end of the experience positive not negative.)

What it really is.

“You’ll have to call customer service.”

Sometimes you may get three bonus words at the beginning of this phrase – “I’m sorry but…”  Yeah, but that doesn’t help much, does it?  (Since you’re not sorry enough to fix it.)

Let’s call this response what it really is; a decision by an organization that the customer experience isn’t that important or cover for an internal screw-up somewhere along the line or some combination of the two.

In the era of customer experience, it’s like saying “thank you for choosing us for your one way flight to Siberia, we have now closed the main cabin door…”

“You’ll have to call customer service.”

There are a number of translations to the real reason available.  If we could only get the honest truth right off the bat, maybe having to make that phone call wouldn’t feel so insulting.  Most of the time when you hear this phrase it boils down to a number of core reasons (with extra bonus honesty included).  I’m using product / service / issue interchangeably here. Some of these may be combined:

  • Your issue isn’t important enough for us to be able to solve in the (tech) system I have access to here. (Or at least I don’t think it’s possible).
  • The company has decided that it’s more efficient to handle your issue by a special function / area / desk / person. (Even though it’s more hassle for you).
  • The company doesn’t trust me enough to help you. (Your issue needs more authority and control to fix than they will give me; honestly they’re afraid that I’ll “give away the store”).
  • When we launched the service, we never expected this to happen. (We honestly didn’t think through the experience well enough or ask around, oh well).
  • The company decided the service was good enough to launch for most customers. (Too bad you’re not one of them).
  • Finding my supervisor or someone else to ask is just too much effort. (Besides, I’m tired).
  • Fixing your problem will take a bit of time. (And it’s easier for me to tell you to call customer service than it is for me to face a line of customers who will become frustrated by waiting for me to help you now).
  • I have no idea how to fix your problem. (But I’m sure somebody in customer service does – and then it will be their problem, whew).

and last but not least…

  • I don’t feel like helping you. (There are a number of sub variations here – I’m overdue to go on break, I’m having a bad day, I don’t like this job, you remind me of my ex-boyfriend, etc. – you get the idea).

“You’ll have to call customer service.”

For some strange reason we just accept those words as a kind of service standard.  We do tend to notice however, when a live person can take care of everything, however obscure, and I for one feel a sense of gratitude when I am able to complete my interaction with an organization in a single go.

So what to do?

The best solution is both the simplest and the hardest – every employee who talks to a customer is the customer service department.

Maybe if organizations looked at what it would take to close down the customer service department entirely and then started that dismantling process, that would put them on the road to redemption (and an excellent experience).  Doing this would force experience excellence by eliminating a lot of customer experience failure at the root cause – program design and implementation.

Every reason someone has to call customer service should be examined and questioned.  Is our process too complicated?  How can we go back upstream and eliminate the need for this?  What would it take for our front line person to handle it?  If an organization is serious about delivering an excellent experience they will have to clear out all the experience “crud” accumulated by decisions driven by internal efficiency over customer delight.

Going forward, the criteria for introducing anything new for customers means that anything that is needed (any choice, option, or scenario) to serve the customer completely must be in place, available, and working by the first representative or system they touch.

In the meanwhile, a good outside assessment of an organization’s current customer experience, from trained professionals (like our Customer Mirror process), will help them to see more clearly the things that are causing customer friction and frustration and what might be done to fix it.

This kind of assessment always helps.  It’s a guaranteed start towards reducing the number of times a customer contact employee says the six most dreaded words in Customer Experience.

I’m not being hypocritical when I say “you’ll have to call one of our customer experience professionals – each one of us is the customer experience department !”

Christopher FrawleyThe Six Most Dreaded Words In Customer Experience