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“Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.”- Henry Ford

This is great advice! There is no denying that human imperfections are bound to be the cause of lapses and in the business realm too there is no dearth of customer service breakdowns. Despite stiff competition, financial losses, shortage of skilled staff and other challenges it would seem obvious that companies would be very cautious and extra careful when attending to customers. Unfortunately for them this is far removed from the truth. Customer service breakdowns occur when the staff and the company as a whole, act or fail to act, without thinking of the consequences and many a times it is too late to salvage the situation. Poor attitude, improper training and knowledge inhibit the service agents in addition to inadequate supervision and company support. The result of all this negativity is that customers are left disappointed, frustrated and even reach a point where they spread these inefficiencies vociferously through various channels, damaging the repute of the organization.

As a customer service agent, each person must constantly be aware of and remind themselves of why they are there and what is expected of them in relation to the customers. At all times the first thing to do is to actively listen to the customer, think about what the customer was conveying or trying to convey through unspoken messages and what one can do to address their problems. Ensure that whatever course of action you decide to take it must reflect the highest standards of customer service rather than a shortcut and quick-fix solution and this must be the standard service level for all customers. Even if you feel that you have done a stellar job, reflect back on the situation and the manner in which it was handled and see if it could have been done better or how you would handle a similar situation in the future if you decide on a different action.

Customer service breakdowns are easily avoided with the right attitude, alert mind and proper planning and as importantly, being aware of the worst kinds of customer service breakdowns or errors. With ever increasing customer expectations, companies and its service agents will have to step up and become more agile if they are to provide great customer service at all times. Customer service breakdowns happen due to a number of reasons.

– Lack of response to customer queries and or complaints. These would constitute missed opportunities turn disgruntled customers to brand advocates as research has proved that around 90 percent of customers who have their complaints resolved efficiently, ensure that they talk about it and are willing endorsers for the company. It is surprising therefore as to how businesses can overlook these opportunities and at times not even acknowledge the feedback. Is it any wonder then that these customer service breakdowns are talked about through online media over which companies have no control.

– Having phone lines and numbers that are not only difficult to reach but also cost the customer heavily is deemed for failure. IVRs and rote scripts force customers to navigate their way around through useless information when they are calling to speak to a real person. It is not possible for a customer to give feedback through an IVR system and they view this as a punishment for calling your company. They would rather turn to a company that would actually have someone speak to them and actually do something about their problem. An easily avoidable customer service breakdown!
– Promising more than can be actually delivered. For example – agents making promises of product delivery within a certain timeline despite knowing that the product is unavailable. Customers do not take such lies kindly and are offended enough to stop doing business.
– Being rude and insensitive towards customers is probably the worst and is still the most common complaint. Companies must not tolerate these behaviors under any circumstance and staff must be instructed to remain courteous and empathetic under all situations. New employees and employees serving notice periods need to be especially monitored. Customers do not want to deal with employees who are not disinterested by also display a complete disinterest in what the customer has to say. It is perplexing to think that companies can engage in this behavior despite knowing the repercussions of irate customers.

– Not taking responsibility of the problem at hand – this is a common occurrence in companies that do not empower all the service agents to handle problems on their own. When customer service agents do not consider the customer’s problem to be their own and would rather pass the buck on to another colleague or supervisor it is bad customer service. The customer is unable to get the confidence that the problem will actually be taken care of and by the time they are shunted from one person to the next they are determined to ‘teach the company a lesson’. Customer service agents who are not empowered will have the tendency to assign blame to others and customers can perceive incompetence and lack of commitment.

– Irregular and inconsistent customer service is extremely vexing for customers. A customer may receive one level of service at one touch-point and be totally ignore at another. Not treating your customers well during every interaction should be a cause for concern for companies.

– Lack of transparency in the charge or payment schedule creates distrust in the minds of customers. Hidden charges like delivery, handling, credit card charges and such are a major cause for customers getting annoyed and vowing never to do business with a company again. Customer service breakdowns that seem deliberate are more difficult to recover from and these hidden charges fall under this category. Lack of transparency also translates to insincerity. Rote and scripted sentences like ‘have a nice day’ or ‘happy to help you’ or ‘can we do anything else for you’ all seem outrageously insincere when seen in conjunction with the insincerity.

– How can companies expect their customers to be happy if they are required to repeat their problems and or queries again and again? Companies that do not use complaint and query logs will be unable to record these statements by customers and each time they interact with the company they would need to repeat their issue. Expecting customers to waste time in connecting with your company only to repeatedly state their problems is a major blunder and is amongst the unpardonable customer service breakdowns.

Companies must be aware of what they are doing wrong and take the necessary steps to ensure that these wrongs are corrected and also measures to prevent future occurrences. Acknowledging the problem is the first step towards alleviating them for the customer and companies must proactively reach out to customers to apologize and inform them of the corrective action being planned and check with them if it is appropriate and whether they would want any other course of action taken. Sending the customer an adequate and appropriate complimentary offering after a service lapse also helps to mend the relationship.

Customer service representatives are the ones that deal with customers and the problems, and so would be in the best position to know what will work and what will not. Companies have to break the old mould, of decisions being taken only at senior levels and empower each employee to take spot decisions before a customer’s frustration escalates to ire and disgust. They should be allowed to offer discounts, extra service on next purchases, refunds and the like. This is a business environment and it seems rather absurd if the agents need to ‘run to’ their supervisor for every decision that they could be allowed to make. Empowered agents would be the company’s way of displaying that the customer is indeed important and that they are committed to remedying the issues as quickly and effectively as possible.

Customer service breakdowns may be inevitable but they can be reversed and even prevented in the future. If not managed they are potentially disastrous and can lead to customers cancelling orders, asking for refunds and posting a stream of negative comments via social media. A company can decline very rapidly due to these customer service breakdowns and would also lead to mass employee attrition. Take bold steps and let your customer service excellence shine through!

“There are no big problems; there are just a lot of little problems.” – Henry Ford

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