During a recent customer experience seminar, participants highlighted a common challenge regarding their ability to delight and even satisfy customers. Nearly all agreed that consistently delighting customers is virtually impossible when customers routinely believe that their individual cases are exceptions and that existing policies and procedures should not be applied to their problems. Participants emphasised that even when they explain these policies and procedures, customers remain uncooperative.
The seminar highlighted the root cause behind this uncooperative behaviour as being the customers’ sense of entitlement. Customers that have this sense of entitlement routinely ignore polices and procedures, or worse, never bother to learn them. They believe that the call centre serves at their beck and call, and should always find some way to solve their problems. This mentality creates expectations that are impossible to exceed (or meet). While some organisations have turned to self-service software to mitigate this problem, many customers simply ignore the self-service option and turn to call centre representatives to solve their challenges.
The following issues represent key problems with customer relationships.
• Customers are not aware of their roles and responsibilities within the context of a two-way relationship
• Customers operate under the assumption that the call centre will do everything for them – leading to a misalignment of expectations
• The call centre never communicated the appropriate expectations (eg time frames for service) to customers
• Customers do not appreciate the reason for the organisation’s polices and procedures
• Customers fail to understand how to follow the policies and procedures
The customer’s sense of entitlement is a common and growing issue in many call centre environments. However, the prevalence of this trend by no means requires call centre representatives to accept abusive customer behaviour. With this in mind, I would ask you to refer to previous articles that I have written on dealing with abusive customers.
Abusive customer behaviour
Irrespective of abusive customer behaviour, call centre agents have to contend with a more challenging issue – the customer’s lack of cooperation. This lack of cooperation stems from customers’ failure to understand why they should adhere to policies and procedures, and how they should follow them.
Think for a minute about the degree to which you truly understand your credit card statement. Do you understand how interest and finance charges are applied? Do you understand its terms and conditions? Most customers simply pay their bill and hope that they aren’t being taken advantage of. In this respect, credit card customers are no different from consumers of other products or services who want to feel empowered and in control, not helpless and inferior.
Seminar participants agreed with the aforementioned analysis. Their customers all receive reams of documents describing policies, procedures and regulations that are printed in small font and written in a language that all but the brightest of people would understand. I challenged participants to write (in legible font) their organisations’ (or division, service group, etc.) policies on one page in spoken English, explaining that policies covering more than one page would leave customers feeling helpless and confused.
I would like to extend the seminar challenge to you. Write down your division/department/group policies and regulations in a clear and concise manner on one page of paper. While writing them, ask yourself whether they are logical and serve to strengthen customer relationships. Think about their intention – whether they exist to protect the company, lower costs or enhance the customer experience. Always keep in mind that policies and procedures should benefit customers. If they do not, go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. The inability to convince customers that policies and procedures exist for their benefit is a recipe for long-term failure. Remember, the goal is to persuade customers, not coerce them.
Most policies and procedures fail to empower customers. Rather, they exacerbate customers’ feelings of inferiority and helplessness. Policies are often written in legal jargon and in a confusing manner – leading to an increase tensions with customers (even when you aren’t actually 'speaking to them'). Connect with customers by using the language of persuasion, not coercion. Rather than outlining the consequences of failing to adhere to policies and procedures, explain the benefits of following them. Speak to customers with language that they will understand so that they feel in control. Through intelligent and simple communication with customers, organisations will be able to build cooperative and profitable relationships based on mutual honesty and respect.
Recent articles by Lior Arussy
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group and the author of several books. His latest book is Passionate & Profitable: Why Customers Strategies Fail and 10 Steps to Do Them Right! (John Wiley & Sons, 2005). To learn more about customer strategies, sign up for Lior’s newsletter at www.StrativityGroup.com