I wrote recently about an interaction I had with a support representative in which I told her I was sorry that she was working for a brand that disrespected her enough to preclude her from being allowed to help me. I’m not sure if she appreciated that I was being honest and sincere in my sentiment, but I imagine the interaction made more of an impression on me, as she surely had other calls to take the rest of her day.
Reflecting on that, it occurred to me that ‘sincere’ apologies are often the norm when an agent isn’t allowed to help me...but going the other direction.
You’ve likely experienced it yourself: The agent, while declaring there’s no way for him or her to help you, expresses regret on your behalf: “I really am sorry and I totally understand why you’d be frustrated,” “I would feel irritated if I were in your position,” “If that happened to me, I’d also be upset, so let me see what I can do...” (which, far too often is nothing).
Without being totally cynical, I’m aware that these are no less scripted responses than are the actual “have you tried turning it off and turning it back on again?” solutions offered by agents. That said, (and maybe a bit more cynical) what difference does it make anyway? Let’s say for the sake of argument that, whenever an agent expresses regret—or empathy as we’ve come to call it these days—at your plight, they really mean it. Big deal. From a person-to-person perspective, that’s nice to know that a random stranger who’s paid to solve my issues takes a genuine interest in my well-being and mental state.
But you know what I’d like even more? If that same random stranger who’s paid to solve my issues were actually...enabled and empowered to solve my issues, and did so. Not to be overly harsh, but frankly I’d prefer actually to be helped by an indifferent (or even hostile!) agent who got my problem fixed than by someone who was hired for his or her “empathy” but not armed with the right tools and having the authority to use them to get the job done.
All over the place these days I see “thought leaders” in the Customer Support and Service (and Success and Care) space telling me how important it is to hire agents for their ability to sympathize and empathize with Customers...hire good people who genuinely care about other people and can show that grace, they say. That’s the most important quality when hiring for your contact center.
Well, okay. So, invest in that. For that matter, invest in training your agents to be caring and thoughtful and how to express a real show of support for your Customers. But what about also investing in making sure your agents have knowledge base systems and CRMs and even hardware (how often to you sit and listen to an agent lament that his or her computer “is so slow!”?) that will enable them to address the inevitable issues they were hired to be there to fix.
Even more importantly, invest in a system that allows them to leverage those tools on behalf of your Customers. Sure, it’s nice to hear that an agent truly does care about me. But I’d rather that agent simply fix my issue. I don’t want to be treated poorly or made to feel like an idiot when I’m calling. It’s nice to have a sympathetic ear who’ll listen to what I’m going through—all the better to find an accommodating solution to my problem. But that solution is ultimately the most important thing.
Why are brands investing so much in the disposition of their Customer-facing team members, but not in the infrastructure and processes that will better deliver on their Brand Promises? A caring ear to bend is nice. One attached to somebody who can do the job is even better.
(Originally Published 20230328)
– LtCol Nicholas Zeisler, CCXP, LSSBB, CSM#2023#CultureandAccountability
– Fractional Chief Customer Officer/Principal, Zeisler Consulting