SEP Fields: Why your support sucks

So your support sucks. Your agents lack customer empathy. The support phone lines are filled with abuses,  and customers want to mob you the moment you step out of your office. And your satisfaction metrics have gone so low, they’ve hit the water table. But that’s not even the worst part. The most depressing thing is you genuinely want to make a difference. It’s just – you don’t know how.

Most businesses want to provide great service. They want to understand, feel and empathize with customers. After all, a bunch of loyal, satisfied customers is only good for the business. But there’s just something lacking in the way things get translated across to the guys talking to customers everyday – your front line staff in sales and customer service, the guys sitting behind the reception, the lady handing over the boarding pass. Without that little concept of customer empathy tied into your support, it looks like you just don’t care about your own customers. Even when you seem to be doing everything you can to put the right processes and workflows in place.

In fact, it’s like there’s a magical force field between you, your front-line staff and your customers, preventing you from reaching out to them. Or that’s what it feels like. We call it an SEP, Somebody Else’s Problem (from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams, an SEP is something we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem…. The brain just edits it out… like a blind spot. At least, you can’t see it unless you know exactly what it is you were looking for in the first place.

Luckily, SEP fields in your customer support process have some pretty obvious signs you can look out for. Only it all starts with looking in the right direction and feeling your customer’s pains the way they do.

Type 1 SEP: Passing the Baton

Tickets are doing the rounds, slipping from department to department. And no one seems to be paying any attention to the increasingly frustrated customer.

Symptom: High re-assigns and resolution time

How to beat this: Create Customer Owners. Making agents responsible for groups of customers ensures that there is no room for lost tickets. Or games. Plus, you’ll always be able to tell who’s life is on the line. No more hiding under policies and rules.

Type 2 SEP: Hold music is now an advertising channel

When hold times on your support line are so long there’s a proposal to air ads on them, there’s probably a pretty huge SEP lurking somewhere.

Symptom: High drop rates and hold times

How to beat this: Scale up if you have to If your customers are spending a lot of time on hold, it’s probably cos your support team is spread too thin, trying to make everyone happy. Hire more personnel, increase the size of your support team and throw all of your efforts into making your customers as happy as possible.

Type 3 SEP: Satisfaction? Who gives a Fish!

According to the monthly reports that your helpdesk churns out, no one seems to be working on faster, better responses. Making the customers as happy as possible doesn’t seem to be a priority for anyone.

Symptoms: Terrible customer satisfaction scores (and no one seems to care)

How to beat this: Responsibility meets Authority. Your frontline guys are the real face of the brand. Make them responsible for customer satisfaction. Give them all the room necessary to make your customers as happy as possible. This way, your customers won’t be able to miss the message that you really do care.

How did your support even harbor an SEP in the first place?

Having a structured hierarchy, policy and workflow is all great for customer support. But only as long as your customer’s support experience continues to be awesome.

If customer centricity isn’t an integral part of your work culture, then your helpdesk becomes prime breeding ground for SEPs. Everything you do, every feature you implement, every policy you enforce should be directed at making the lives of your customers easier.

Remember: Conformance << Performance While company policies are meant to be adhered to, impress on your agents that it’s ok, every once in awhile, to break the rules to make a customer happy. It’s important for every support rep to empathize with the customer’s problems, and value the performance of your support experience over conformance to rules. After all, that’s why we’re in this space. If something in your support stands between your customer and the great service she deserves, stomp it into to the ground right now!

Think of other SEPs lurking around in our everyday customer support experiences? Have better ways to encourage a culture of customer empathy? Let us know in the comments…