5 Ways You’re Killing Your Customer Experience (Logic behind the flaws + How To Fix Them)

Recently I answered a call for one of our clients. The caller, Lisa, was furious. She was calling to check the status of an invoice she sent to be paid. Apparently, she had called four times prior. Each and every time she was directed to a voice mail. She left a message every time, but no one ever called her back. This isn’t how Small Business Communication should be.

As an answering service that specializes in small businesses, we do a lot of different things depending on the client. This particular client was actually not a small business at all, but a very large corporation. We are their receptionists. We transfer calls to the correct extensions depending on department or person requested.

I was determined to help Lisa contact the correct person.

This situation needed to be resolved. So, I called the number we have listed for Accounts Payable. I was directed straight to voicemail. I knew I didn’t want to direct Lisa to another voicemail. That hadn’t worked for her so far. I continued to look through our notes, until I found a number for Finance. Not knowing exactly what that meant, I tried the number. It was a last resort, but I was actually able finally connect Lisa to a real person. Someone who could help her.

Turns out this client actually outsources their accounts payable to a third party company. That is who she had been leaving voice mail’s with. A company dedicated to representing clients, and paying their vendors was not returning calls.

This got me thinking. What else are businesses unknowingly doing that make them hard to work with? Better yet, what are they doing that they think is help but is actually driving away customers?

I polled our team. “When you’re talking with an angry caller, what are the most common complaints you hear?” I received some pretty nasty responses. But, I noticed a trend.

The communication strategy was off

The number one goal of any business is to attract prospects, or potential customers. Once you convert a prospect into a customer, you then have to work to keep your customer base invested in your company. Some businesses think they’ve perfected their process. They don’t realize that some of the things that they’re doing to attract prospects are actually driving customers in the opposite direction.

The internet is packed with seemingly helpful customer communication strategies. We are easy to adopt them because they seem completely logical. When you take a closer look at how the customer feels about the interaction, you’ll find that often you’re doing more harm than good. Here are five things that your company is likely doing to enhance customer service and retention that are actually driving customers away.

use an answering service or let go to voicemail

Having a Voicemail That is Full

Why it doesn’t work

There’s nothing wrong with being out of the office. People need to be with family and celebrate holidays sometimes, whether they own a small business or not. There’s nothing wrong with using voicemail, even if hiring an answering service is a more value-driven choice. However, there is something wrong with not having voicemail available when a customer rings you. The purpose of voicemail is to be able to leave a message. There isn’t anything quite worse than calling a business and getting a voicemail recording that says “You cannot leave a message”, except perhaps “The voicemail box is full”. Having a full mailbox doesn’t send the message that you’re a busy person and in demand. Rather, it says that you don’t listen to your messages. And that you’re a lazy business owner.

How to make it work

Not everyone likes to listen to their voicemail. People report it being tedious, annoying, and even awkward. If you don’t like listening to voicemail, you have three choices:

  1. Use a Call Answering Service, so that you never have to listen to voice mail again.
  2. Realize that it’s one of those things that you have to do.
  3. Forward your voicemail or calls to your assistant or another employee to handle for you.

Ignoring your voicemail or pretending that it’s not there isn’t an option.

small business answering service receptionist

Transferring Calls to a Higher Level

Why it doesn’t work

There are times that transferring calls is acceptable. These are the times when you are certain that someone is going to address the issue on the other end. If you are able to help the customer calling, then you should do it. It’s unfortunate how many people will result to the “that’s not my job” excuse. Or, they’ll rephrase to “that’s not my department” when on the phone with a customer. Being in the mindset of “that’s not in my job description” ignites a feeling of resentment. It isn’t the mindset that anyone wants on their team.

How to make it work

If you hold a position in a company that can mandate change, strongly consider eliminating “departments” on a customer service level. When a customer calls in with a basic technical issue that someone in sales can help solve, require that the sales rep walk the customer through the issue. If the call needs to be escalated, then do it. Aim to resolve phone calls without transferring the call. Sales people help with tech support. Tech support helps with sales. Customers have a sense of confidence that they can contact your business and obtain results.

If you’re an employee of a company and don’t have the ability to make such a change in the call escalation process, it’s understood that you can’t spearhead such a movement. However, you can take your own personal standard to the next level. Before transferring a call to another department, hopefully it’s required that you get a complete idea of what the customer’s concern is. If they have a concern that you can address, then address it. Take a few minutes and solve the problem if you can. Drop the phrase “That’s not my department” out of your vocabulary. Make it your department.

What’s the difference?

The biggest difference of opinion of this approach will usually come from someone in sales. “I have a quota to hit. I don’t have time to resolve issues that don’t help me get to my goal.”Not exactly a team player mentality, but there’s no doubt that the argument is valid. Think about this. If you were out of the office and a potential customer called in and got the tech support department, would you want them to tell the customer to “just call back later?” Or, would you want them to build a relationship with the caller and prove your company’s passion and dedication to customer service? That person on the other end of your phone might not buy a product or service from you that day, but people talk. People use social media. If they enjoy their experience with you, then they’ll pass the information on to others.

Just because you’re not getting an instantaneous customer, doesn’t mean that you aren’t investing in a potential prospect down the road.

communication strategy and out of office

Using Out Of Office or Vacation Email Responders

Why it doesn’t work

People seem to think that setting up an out of office message is a great way to let clients and prospects know that you’re not available and when you’ll be back. Here’s a harsh reality check: people don’t care if you’re out of the office. They want their issue solved or question answered. Turn off the vacation message. All a vacation message says is “I’m away having an incredible time in Fiji and your email isn’t my priority right now.” No matter how you word it, that’s exactly what that email says.

Some will argue that they put the exact day that they will be back into the office on their out-of-office reply. People are smarter than you think. They know this means that they have to add a few extra days to your return date before they hear back from you. Telling a customer that they’re not being helped until you get back is no way to keep a customer.

How to make it work

In no way does any of this mean that you can’t take a vacation or have a day off. When you do take a day off, instead of having an out of office message in effect, consider having your email forwarded to a colleague. Have them filter through the emails that they can handle and let them take control of the situation. Be reachable for emergencies only and clearly identify what constitutes an emergency. Have your colleague reply to each person personally with the offer to assist them or that they can give you a call when you return. Initiate a reminder or calendar system so that you don’t lose track of anyone that you need to call back. It might seem like a bit more work than throwing up a vacation message, but you’re guaranteed to look much more professional by having an organized process in place.

Don't say sorry i can't help you

Using the Phrase: “Sorry, there is nothing that I can do”

Why it doesn’t work

No matter how many times you apologize, and regardless of whether there is something you can do or not, when someone hears “There’s nothing I can do”, they hear “I won’t do anything” or “I don’t care to help”. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to communicate that or not, that’s what a customer will perceive.

How to make it work

The solution to this one is twofold. First, you have to communicate to the customer that you’re going to try your best to help them. Even if you’re confident that there isn’t anything that you can do, you need to let the customer know that you’re on their side and want to assist them.

The second part of handling this situation is to actually try and help them. How many times have you been on the opposite end of the conversation? Desperately pleading with the representative on the phone to try and help you, but all you get are excuses? How frustrating was it for you? The problem with customer service representatives is that they’re trained to tell people that they can’t help. Or, they’re told what they’re able to do and what they’re not so they’re in a position where they truly believe they cannot help.

Never underestimate the power that you have to influence change, no matter how low on the office totem pole you think you are.

Make every attempt to contact someone in the necessary department and see if there is anything that can be done. You never know when your assumed “no” will be a “yes” or that there is a solution that can be offered to help your customer. If there indeed isn’t a solution to their issue, when you tell them that, at least you’re being honest and they have witnessed firsthand that you tried. You can’t solve everyone’s issues, but you can make an honest effort.

Saying “I understand how you’re feeling” when you don’t

Why it doesn’t work

Many successful customer service consultants recommend using phrases such as “I understand” or “I’ve been in your shoes.” They believe that these phrases will show that you’re sympathetic and will help to build a bond with your customer. On a basic level, this isn’t a problem. However, it becomes an issue when you create or make up stories that coerce the customer to believe that you can relate to them.

I can’t tell you how many times in my early years as a sales representative that I was trained to create a story based around the prospect’s story. By the end of any given day on the phone, I would have been a single mother, married for 30 years, single woman with no children, recently bankrupt, owner of my own business…the list goes on and on. It got to the point where often times a customer would call me back and talk about a situation that I claimed to have been in and I had no recollection of it. Talk about an identity crisis. The time will come when a customer will call you out on a lie and then you lose all credibility.

How to make it work

Empathy is acceptable, even crucial. Lying is not. I remember joining a customer service team after being involved in sales and I brought out my finest “I’ve been in your shoes, let me tell you about my marriage and children that I don’t have” tactics. My trainer pulled me aside after he had heard me give several different conflicting stories. I’ll never forget what he said to me after asking me why I was lying on the phone. He said:

“How do you expect to be a trusted source when all you do is lie to a customer?”

It was a pivotal moment in my career. I spent years thinking I was helping customers by relating to them when in fact, I was misleading them. So, how do you show empathy to a customer when you honestly don’t know how they feel?

The answer is easy

Be honest. If someone calls in with a story about how their mother recently passed away, or they’re having financial difficulties and you’ve never been in that situation, you can offer empathetic thoughts such as “I can only imagine how difficult that is. Sometimes you just have to put one foot in front of the other, and it seems like you’re doing that as best as you can.” Phrasing it this way doesn’t put you into a situation where you’re lying just to get an “in” with the customer. You’re offering your true support, still using key words like “understand”, and thereby earning legitimate trust.

A large number of things that we do when communicating with our customers are really short cuts for us. We want to be able to help more people in shorter amounts of time. The things that we think are enabling us to be more efficient are actually ruining customer experience in the long run. Customer communication isn’t about efficiency so much as it’s about having truthful, quality, engaging, helpful conversations and building a level of trust. The key is to help as many people as possible with authentic solutions and requiring the customer to do as little unnecessary work as possible. By changing just a few of your customer communication practices, you’ll undoubtedly notice an increased level of customer satisfaction.