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3 Psychological Triggers to Prevent in Telephone Customer Service

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3 Psychological Triggers to Prevent in Telephone Customer Service

This blog post was sponsored by my friends at Customer Contact Week. If you’re a contact center leader, make sure to check out this incredible event happening in Las Vegas on June 18-22, 2018. You can view the brochure or register here


Our customers have psychological triggers, hot buttons that set them off and that can instantly make good experiences go bad. And while each individual has their own unique sensitivities, there are certain hot buttons that are common to many customers. Back in 2013, I identified these as the 7 Service Triggers, which are as follows:

  1. Being ignored
  2. Being abandoned
  3. Being hassled
  4. Being faced with incompetence
  5. Being shuffled
  6. Being powerless
  7. Being disrespected

The 7 Service Triggers were built upon the idea that our customers do not come to us as blank slates. Even if they are new to our business, they’ve had experiences with companies like ours before.

Further, certain situations and specific communication channels are likely to be conducive to certain triggers being prevalent. In the case of delivering customer service over the telephone, three service triggers are particularly common and should be guarded against.

So, let’s look at how customers can easily feel ignored, abandoned, or shuffled when interacting with our organizations over the phone, as well as some power tactics we can use to prevent those triggers from occurring.

Don’t Let Your Customers Feel Ignored

When a customer calls an organization, whether it be a contact center, a retail store, or an office, they expect one thing above all: someone to answer the phone. There are a lot of ways that customers can feel ignored when calling an organization. In smaller orgs, it’s possible that no one answers at all, the customer gets placed on immediate hold, or the customer gets sent to voicemail. In contact centers, the customer can end up in queue for a lengthy period.

Of course, every industry and organization is different and whether a customer feels ignored has a lot to do with their expectations.

Power Tactics: Seek to understand customer expectations and build your staffing and responses around those. Staffing is, of course, a constant challenge, especially in the face of uneven demand.

For those at scale, Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) software can assist with this challenge; however, no matter the size of the organization, think carefully about the messages you are sending to the customers that don’t get through immediately.

Once you understand their expectations, speak to those expectations directly through your IVR system or mailbox messaging to assure them that they will not be ignored.

Customers Can Feel Abandoned, Even When They Aren’t

As customers, we’ve all been abandoned by customer service reps in a multitude of different ways. We’ve been left to slog our way through phone-tree hell, told that someone would call us back who never did, or left with information that was supposed to fix our problem but didn’t.

From a technical standpoint, being abandoned is similar to being ignored; the main difference is that the customer has already had contact with someone from the organization. The customer is in the midst of his experience, and suddenly he is disconnected from the organization, whether it be being left on hold for 10 minutes, being left waiting at a counter for 15 minutes, or being told they will receive a call by close of business that never comes.

Power Tactics: Preventing the abandonment trigger is a confidence game; you want to make sure that you assure accountability and frame the reason for the transfer.

Assuring accountability means you take ownership of the customer’s issue and give them assurance that someone is going to see them through to the end. You let them know, to the extent that you can, that you will stick with them, if not until resolution, then until they are in someone else’s capable hands.

In addition, reframing the transfer — giving the “why” for the transfer — is crucial. You want to let the customer know that they are being transferred for their benefit. Use phrases like “because they are the ones that can get this resolved for you” or “because they are the ones that can best help you” to frame the transfer as the best option for the customer.

Shuffling Customers Is an Automatic Negative

Want to make sure customers don’t feel abandoned? Don’t transfer them in the first place. Of course, transfers happen, but it is important to realize that every time you transfer a customer, you are automatically creating a negative experience.

The mere act of transferring a customer is almost always a negative experience. Click To Tweet

One research study by the customer experience analytics firm ClickFox presented customers with a list of service interactions and asked them which ones frustrated them most. Forty-one percent of respondents said “having to speak with multiple agents and starting over every time” was the most frustrating. Being shuffled truly is a sensitive trigger for many people.

Power Tactics: There are many ways to prevent customers feeling shuffled but two of the most important are employee empowerment and training.

In every organization I’ve worked with, I’ve found they had room to empower employees more. Even in the face of regulatory and security concerns, many orgs can loosen the reigns enough to allow reps to resolve more issues in real-time, and a resolved issue is one that doesn’t need to be transferred.

Similarly, training is essential to making sure that reps know what they can do to resolve issues on the spot and to ensure they know how to identify and route issues to the correct department.

Like any communication medium, the telephone has its pros and cons as a customer servicer channel.

One of the cons of the telephone is that, other than tone of voice, many of the human signals that we use to decode intent in other humans are stripped away. This fact, along with the frustrating customer service we’ve all experienced over the phone, can make customers more predisposed to mistrust and to feeling ignored, abandoned, or shuffled.

However, with a little forethought and proactive care, you can make sure your customers don’t experience these service triggers when interacting with your organization over the phone.

About the Author Adam Toporek

By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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