The "Exhausting" Experience
Updated: May 25
When effortless is missing-in-action
I keep thinking about the coaching I do in my professional life as a Call Center QA provider: about encouraging companies to give the best customer service possible, strategizing around how to have difficult conversations and practice conflict resolution, and how to use empathy and listening skills in the workplace. Here at VereQuest, we ask quite a bit of the companies who hire us to help them keep the promises they make.
And then I have a customer interaction myself -- as the customer, not the company or the coach — and I am reminded that the effort we ask of companies is worth it to the customer.
This past Saturday, I was in the check-out line of the grocery store — Loblaws to be exact — and the very kind cashier informed me that I had no reward points. She pointed to my bill, at the bottom of which was a big fat zero. See? No points. I was glad she was looking out for me.
There are three PC MasterCard credit cardholders in my house, and we are frequently cashing in our reward points for free groceries -- and are very happy with the arrangement. It’s a win-win. We purchase everything on that card, and I knew we should have reward points earned. Alas, it appeared that someone had swiped our points. We were alarmed and of course, called PC MasterCard customer service on our way from the grocery store to the parking lot.
The CSR told us that he could see our points, but that we might not be able to because we had probably not registered on pcoptimum.ca. This has to do with the recent merger of Loblaw’s points and Shoppers Drug Mart rewards cards. "Okay", said my wife, Claire, "Can you do that for us?" The CSR said no, we would have to do that by registering online.
Customer service is a bit of a theme in our house, and while we chop onions or put in laundry, my wife Claire has heard me talk about what makes great customer service and what doesn't. She has, in particular, heard me talk about "The Effortless Experience" by Dixon, Toman, and Delisi, which is often used as a gauge of customer satisfaction. How effortless was the customer’s experience in trying to get their problem resolved? If it’s not effortless — if it is, by contrast, very effortful — then the company is not doing its job.
So, Claire said to the CSR, "You know, I appreciate you telling me that you can see my points because I’m relieved that they haven’t been stolen. Now you’re telling me I must register online, but I’m in the car at the moment, running from one errand to another. It would be much more convenient for me if you could do that for me right now, so I don’t have to do one more thing later. You consolidated your PC MasterCard points program and your Optimum program for your company's efficiency, but now you’re asking me to do the extra work to make that happen for you.”
The PC MasterCard CSR didn’t apologize…exactly — he said, “I get where you’re coming from,” which was a good shot at empathy. He suggested that Claire talk to a PC Optimum CSR to see if they could do that for her because he wasn’t sure… so he transferred her over.
Now we’re on step 2 of trying to resolve our problem. We got trapped in an automated phone system loop of “I’m sorry, we didn’t understand your selection.” That didn’t exactly make her feel like a valued customer. At this point, we were sitting in the car in front of our house with a car full of Saturday morning errand purchases.
As Claire kept pressing zero trying to reach a CSR she asked me, “How can it not recognize my selection of zero? I would like to talk to a CSR. Everyone knows zero is the international signal for ‘can I talk to a human being please?'” Another automated message looped in for good measure: “If you can’t see your points on your receipt, we are trying to rectify the technical issue within 48 hours,” which indicated to us that there may be a technical glitch at the root of our problem, not an online sign-up issue. But no live CSR ever acknowledged to us that there might be a technical problem.
Eventually, the PC Optimum CSR got on the line, and she told us as well — very pleasantly, mind you — that Claire had to go onto the website to register her card, and then she had to invite me and our daughter so we could register our cards, too, at which point we needed to get online and register, and then we could “household” the points — which is to say, make them available for everyone’s use in the house… and she could talk Claire through that if she would like.
Claire said no thank you, I’m in the car and not at my computer, so my family will have to do that ourselves, later. Which added another thing to our Saturday to-do list.
As Claire hung up she wondered: What if an elderly person who doesn’t really use the internet had called in for help? How would that person get to see her points on the bottom of her bill? How would that person help PC MasterCard and PC Optimum join accounts virtually when it should be them helping her?
We entered our house and before heading out for our fifth errand of the morning, Claire got onto the computer — step 3 of trying to resolve our problem — and signed up online. Then she invited me and my daughter to sign up — whereupon we also got online. Step 4 and 5.
It took 5 steps to resolve our problem — and the onus for all 5 was on us, the customers, not the company.
This company/customer interaction with pleasant CSRs who could not really help us was bothersome and left me with four takeaways to add to my corporate coaching:
Even when companies endeavor to make an online sign-up for a program as simple as possible, but still put the onus on the customer and not on the company, that is an effort for the customer (read: irritant). It would be better if the company were able to take care of rectifying the problem automatically, or in one interaction, not several.
If the customer clearly identifies a problem, going the full empathy distance for the CSR is completely doable. “I see where you’re coming from” is only a half-way there. Start with an apology, add empathy, and then wrap it up with some action. “I’m sorry this has caused you to have to squeeze more into your busy day. I can see where you’re coming from; I’d be frustrated too. Here’s what I can do to help…” Resolving your customer’s problem then and there is the closer. Empathy by itself — or half-empathy, as was the case here — followed by throwing the solution back into the customer’s lap ends up feeling hollow.
“I’m sorry, we didn’t understand your selection” doesn’t make much sense to a customer pressing zero and is a recipe for customer dissatisfaction. All automated phone systems should flip to a live CSR queue when the zero is pushed. Anything else makes the customer feel like a mouse in a maze, undervalued and like the least important part of a business interaction rather than the most important part.
If there is a technical glitch, own up to it immediately -- and not just with your automated system, but with your live CSR.
Every interaction I have with a business as a customer informs my coaching as a Call Center QA provider. Make your customer engagement effortless. And yes, it’s the little things that count.
Kirk Dunn is the VP of Customer Engagement at VereQuest and a highly skilled coach, actor/writer and textile artist.
VEREQUEST is a consulting firm specializing in driving and sustaining the quality of the customer experience in the contact center environment. We help our clients, each a leading organization in N.A., to strive to win the hearts and loyalty of customers through a wide range of proprietary tools and techniques.
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