Why Customers Must Be Allowed to Speak to Your Company

Old phone showing death of customer service hotline

One of the best, most insightful articles on customer service I’ve read in some time – one that pinpoints the inherent conflict or dialectic between investing in excellent customer service and keeping costs low and prices attractive to customers – appeared in Vox. It is a MUST READ for everyone in our industry, for it raises points that need to be addressed if we are to move forward.

The piece, “The death of the customer service hotline”, written by Emily Stewart, discusses the hard reality that too many companies are making it increasingly difficult for customers to reach agents.

She makes the point that “Having someone to pick up the phone costs money that some companies would rather not spend”.

This statement reminds me of a fridge magnet I bought at Universal Studios in Orlando during a call center show many years ago. Titled “Apathy” it showed an old-fashioned black desktop phone with cobwebs on it with the statement: “If we don’t take care of the customer, maybe they’ll stop bugging us.”

One of the challenges the Vox author identifies is staffing and turnover—which comes as no surprise to coaches, supervisors, managers, and HR teams. “It’s increasingly difficult for companies to get call center employees in the door and to get them to stick around.”, reports Stewart.

At the same time, companies need to have the ability for customers to call and listen to them to build and retain trust, particularly when they are stressed, says Stewart. But in doing so they can also gain insights on their products and services, like discovering flaws that they could then correct: and deflect future calls.

“Having no call options is bad for consumers — and for companies”.

Customers do share some of the blame for companies being reluctant to provide customer service by being rude and obnoxious in the hopes of getting a better deal. But companies also must take a share of responsibility for that by enabling that bad behavior.

“Consumers have learned that being a little extra is often the way to get their way. (This does not give anyone an excuse to have a giant meltdown at a service worker.)”, Stewart points out.

Again, no surprise to coaches, supervisors, and managers, this behavior makes “life for the worker on the other end of the line — who’s not at fault at all — awful and making it harder to keep and recruit workers going forward.”

So where do we go from here?

Some thoughts:

  • Make the case, backed by numbers/hard facts/examples, that customer service investment supports customer loyalty and revenues. And that it heads off costly problems through agents acting as early warning systems.
  • Empower the agents to become true customer service representatives to handle issues including bringing on subject matter experts.
  • Remove all hiring barriers: yes that means remote work so that commuting distance doesn’t limit labor pools. Proactively reach out to individuals you would not have considered before, like veterans, individuals with disabilities, to new arrivals from other countries, and to those who have paid their debts to society and want to make a new life for themselves and their families.
  • State (and enforce) customer abuse policies including firing customers if need be.

Share yours with me at [email protected]. In doing so let me know whether we could publish them.