Customer Service is Broken — Stop Throwing More People at the Problem

The heading of this post may seem counter intuitive. But I’m absolutely baffled by the conventional wisdom that suggests we can make customer service better simply by growing our teams of customer support agents and adding more bodies – often without making skill or experience a hiring priority.

It’s not working, and here’s why.

Yesterday, I was unable to complete a transaction online and received an error message that my credit card couldn’t be authenticated.

After an hour on the phone with MasterCard customer service, I was finally able to resolve the issue. There had been a ‘suspicious’ charge (I paid for the balance owing on my daughter’s wedding dress), and so my card had been flagged and frozen.

In the course of that hour, I was on hold for a total of 29 minutes, and I was transferred between 4 different people. It turns out, I needed to verify some personal information, validate the charge, and that was enough scrutiny to satisfy the security team to clear the card.

I’ve blogged before about the extraordinary amount of time people spend on hold – you can read about that here. But the hold time notwithstanding, it was shocking that it took four people to get this matter resolved.

After all, I was asked to complete fairly straightforward tasks to provide ample reassurance to Mastercard that the charge was indeed legitimate, and that my card had not been compromised. I was asked two security questions, and then the agent asked me to relay my three most recent charges.

That was it. (Plus lots of time on hold and juggling between live agents).

To get my customer inquiry resolved, Mastercard had to invest in four salaries, four benefits packages, four computers, headsets, desk space, onboarding, training, and – perhaps most costly – countless software platforms that are meant to streamline and manage live support…

I understand that my inquiry is just one of millions that Mastercard receives ongoing. In fact, the hold time was almost certainly a function of the long queue of people who were also waiting to have their needs addressed. Companies today are inundated with customer inquiries coming at them via phone, email, live chat, and even social media. And they should absolutely continue to prioritize the resolution of these inquiries.

But here’s the thing – more people isn’t the answer – and the software vendors that provide customer support solutions are building businesses on the backs customer support teams and an assumption that customer dissatisfaction will persist, because their pricing structures necessarily depend on increased license counts for live agent use.

In other words, the more dissatisfied your customer base, the more customer support agents you need to employ and the more you have to invest in live chat, IVR or email ticketing software. This is the wisdom of the day.

Those same software vendors – the ones who claim they want to help companies improve customer service – actually have a disincentive to deliver on that promise, because it will reduce the value of their contracts.

That’s messed up. And it can become a real rabbit hole. In fact – while 80% of companies believe they are delivering a ‘super’ customer experience, only 8% of customers feel they are getting one.

So, what should companies be doing, if indiscriminately growing their teams of customer support agents isn’t the answer?

Automation is the best practice approach. Not necessarily to shrink the size of customer service organizations, but to free live agents so they can address mission critical needs that can’t be handled through conversational AI or chatbot platforms.

Automation can help diminish wait times. It can improve the quality of support. And yes – in many cases, it can end the bleed and stop the exponential and ineffective growth of customer support teams.

My inquiry with Mastercard, for instance, could have certainly been resolved through a chatbot. At Ada, we are able to automate more than 70% of customer interactions – even for large enterprises – in a highly personalized, customized manner. Ada doesn’t just automate FAQ responses – the technology allows users to upgrade their data plans, make reservations, check account balances, change passwords.

And here’s the part that makes the most sense – rather than charge clients based on license counts, Ada charges based on the volume of interactions in the chatbot. In other words –Ada’s success necessarily depends on whether or not customers can successfully satisfy and resolve inquiries within our platform (and usually without live agent support).

It’s a win-win-win for everyone.

  • Customers are happy because they can self-serve, on demand, across channels and if they do need to speak to a live agent, they do not have to wait.
  • Live agents are happy because they are freed to address the most mission critical and complex interactions, and no longer have to deal with simple, straightforward inquiries all day long.
  • Businesses are happy because customer satisfaction grows without having to invest millions of dollars in headcount-based software contracts

To learn more about why Ada is the market leader in Automated Customer Experience (ACX), you can visit our website.

Ruth Zive
Ruth Zive

Ruth is a skilled and metrics-driven marketing strategist who believes in evidence-based revenue growth. Ruth has worked for two decades serving B2B clients in the technology, financial services and non profit industries. Currently, Ruth is the Chief Marketing Officer at Ada, where she oversees Growth, Product Marketing, Brand and Business Development.

More info about Ruth Zive: LinkedIn

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