We’ve all had that awkward moment. We’re shopping in a store or asking about the product we ordered, and the frontline rep we’re interacting with starts to overshare. We hear about their life story, about the seven week saga that led to the order being delayed, or about how much they hate their job. It’s a case of TMI (too much information), and in customer service, it can be deadly.
Frontline reps share TMI in three primary ways:
This is generally the most problematic form of TMI in customer interactions. Perhaps the rep is lonely, perhaps the rep simply lacks the social awareness to understand where to draw the line, but somehow the rep misses the clue that the customer does not want to hear their personal story.
No matter how bad their experience at the DMV was yesterday, no matter how much their foot hurts from their bunion surgery, the customer is not interested, and even if they might be, they should never have been put in the position to make that determination in the first place. TMI is simply not part of the professional relationship.
Reps often have a tendency to overcompensate for service challenges by telling the whole, long story of the operational issues that caused the problem. Often, this is because the rep feels like the customer will be more understanding if they recount the entire saga.
In some cases, particularly with an upset customer, a significant level of detail is necessary. However, similar to the theory in Chapter 50 of Be Your Customer’s Hero, Jargon Is a Wall Between You and the Customer, where the use of jargon helps make customers feel disconnected from the organization, excessive operational details can have a similar effect, placing a divide between you and the customer. Worse, they can also come across as defensive.
In many cases, too much organizational information can be the most deadly of all. If there are trends in frontline reps sharing TMI, they would be as follows: Sharing personal information often runs towards eliciting sympathy, sharing organizational information often runs towards explaining the reasons for a problem, but sharing organizational information often runs towards the negative, even towards gossip.
“My boss is a real pain about the dates on these coupons.” “No one’s helped you yet. I’m so sorry. I think I’m the only one here who actually cares about customers.” When reps share more than they should about their bosses or teammates, it’s usually to make an excuse for themselves or the position they are in. Neither is the best way to handle a challenging customer service situation.
The problem with frontline reps sharing TMI is that it is almost always about them, about their needs and how they feel or want to feel. In a frontline exchange, the focus of the conversation should be centered on the customer’s experience.
Of course, this does not mean reps should not share personal or operational information. In fact, building rapport and explaining the why behind a policy or issue are important parts of customer service. It’s not information that is the problem; it’s too much information.
Context also matters a great deal. A B2B sales dinner would allow for more sharing of personal information than a quick exchange on the department store floor. A discussion with a nail technician would allow for more sharing than an exchange at the grocery store checkout counter.
Of all the sins frontline reps commit — ignoring customers or being rude to customers, for instance — sharing TMI can often be one of the least harmful. Of course, its effect depends on the information being shared and how it is being shared.
Assuming the information is fairly innocuous, not too embarrassing and not too negative in nature, many customers might feel put off by a little oversharing on the part of the rep but not walk away considering the experience a deeply negative one. In other cases, too much information can ruin a customer’s experience, leaving them with a bad taste about the rep and the company.
In the end, frontline reps should be trained on professional boundaries, appropriate conversations, and how to guard against TMI. Because when too much of the wrong information is shared, it can be deadly to the customer experience.
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.