The WORST phone support experiences

It’s hard to consistently provide good customer service. On some days, the customer calling your helpline isn’t clear about what they want. On other days, your agents are inundated with calls because of a different crisis and have no choice but to place customers on hold as they manage every query that comes their way. That said, providing prompt and helpful customer support (as often as possible) is important because:

  1. 31% of customers said that they would stop using a business due to a poor support experience (according to a survey by New Voice Media)
  2. Customers prefer using self-service channels and consider phone support primarily for escalations and urgent resolutions

In the last year, businesses have lost almost $75 billion due to poor service and obstacles such as long hold times and multiple phone trees. Here, we’ve shortlisted some of the worst phone support stories we’ve heard to show you the kind of pitfalls that contribute to customer (and revenue) loss:

Related: 7 awful customer service phrases (and what to say instead)

Multiple Calls for the Same Issue

The situation: Meg has been charged incorrectly by her telecom provider. They’ve billed her for data that she didn’t use and have not responded to her emails. Instead, she’s received a “payment overdue” notice. She’s called their customer care line 5 times and has spoken with a different agent each time. The new agent has no record of the previous conversation, including any assurances another agent may have given, and blindly promises to look into the issue. The agent can’t correct the bill directly and has to contact the billing team to adjust the amount. Meg doesn’t care about the internal operations of the telecom company. She just wants her invoice to be sorted without requiring another call to another support agent.

Takeaways: Businesses, even SMBs, would benefit from maintaining a consolidated set of notes about a specific customer (their calls, past queries, purchases etc.). When a different agent tends to call, they have context for the discussion and are able to assist the customer more efficiently. Quicker closures lead to happier customers.

The Disinterested Agent

The situation: Alex ordered a pair of Bluetooth speakers online. The speakers were delivered in a beautifully packaged box, with instructions and a helpline number for prompt assistance. Alex had difficulties connecting the speakers to his smartphone and, after failing to find solutions from articles online, called the helpline. After getting through 3 phone trees, he managed to (finally!) connect with a human agent. But Jack, the support agent, doesn’t seem to care about Alex’s issue. He places Alex on hold for a few minutes to check the product manual. He repeats instructions that are already on Alex’s printed manual. He doesn’t respond to Alex’s increasing frustration and then directs Alex to a help center webpage that has no new information.

Takeaways: Agents attending to customers need to display empathy and understand the source of the customer’s frustration. Their superior product or service expertise can translate directly into increased First Call Resolution (FCR) metrics. They represent the brand promise (as much as the products do) and have the ability to generate a positive impression in the mind of the customer, even while addressing complaints. The gain: 47% of customers surveyed would recommend the business to others if provided with prompt and helpful customer service.

The Hold and Transfer Loop

The situation: Nick booked a Europe trip on a travel agency website during a promotion. He realized that his layover in Brussels was too short and needed to change a flight. Unable to make the change online, he called the helpline. Since he had purchased tickets in bulk and at special fares, the agent (understandably) had to consult with his supervisor. He placed Nick on hold for 11 minutes and then told Nick that he had to transfer the call to a colleague. The second agent put Nick on hold again while he checked Nick’s account information. Nick had no choice but to stay on the line and resolved to find a more user-friendly service for his subsequent trips.

Takeaways: According to Forrester Research, 73% of customers consider “valuing their time” an important metric for customer support. Callback options (so that the customer doesn’t have to wait for an agent to answer) and clear training documents for agents can ensure that customers spend fewest possible minutes on hold.

Language Barriers

The situation: Pam wants to trace a package she ordered online as it’s 3 days past the delivery date. She calls the customer support number and is matched with an overseas agent who has access to the logistics tracking system. Pam reads out the tracking numbers and order IDs but the agent can’t understand her accent and enters the wrong information into the system. Consequently, the system displays an error message (“Incorrect order number. Please re-enter!”) and the agent repeats this to Pam. She spends 25 infuriating minutes trying to communicate with the agent before terminating the call and penning a furious email to the company.

Takeaways: While overseas call centers may be economical, language and translation difficulties may dampen a customer’s experience. Businesses can provide options to type the order ID into the keypad during a call or allow the agent to initiate a real-time chat with the customer to access relevant details from text.

Scripted Responses

The situation: David’s father had passed away and in the process of securing the family’s finances, David had to cancel his father’s credit card. He called the card company to request a cancellation and the agent responded with the usual process request “For security reasons, I need to confirm this with the cardholder.” David was stumped by the reaction. This was clearly an exception to the usual operating procedure but the agent could not veer from the script and offer him a workable solution.

Takeaways: While guidelines and scripts can help your agents get through large volumes of calls, plan for situations that may require changes in procedure. Consider empowering a few senior agents or encourage agents to transfer the call to a supervisor to attend to customers in a manner befitting the circumstances.

Instead of waiting for your customers to encounter these issues on your phone support channel (and then leave your business or express their ire on social media), you can proactively ensure that these pitfalls are kept to a minimum, if not avoided entirely. Customer experience extends beyond the purchase journey and your approach towards their hurdles determines what side of the $75 billion transfer you fall on.

Illustrations by Nikhil Kanda


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