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What makes a customer destroy a call centre with a hammer?

Everyone at some point in their lives has been subject to a terrible customer experience. Negative interactions between brands and customers come in all shapes and sizes, and can often result in nasty words exchanged over the phone, letters of complaint, and even widespread outrage on social media - just a few repercussions of call centre disengagement.

Those of us who work in the call centre industry may feel like we know what a genuinely frustrated customer can do, but have you heard of anyone actually smashing a call centre to pieces with a hammer? Well that’s what made 75-something retired nurse, Mona “The Hammer” Shaw a hero for fed-up customers everywhere in 2007.

But what exactly was it about the customer experience that made Shaw so angry?

It all began when multinational services provider, Comcast, couldn't provide consistent service of its ‘Triple Play’ option, which combined phone, cable and Internet. After many attempts to get someone to resolve her issue, Comcast simply cut off service entirely. Shaw went directly to the office to speak to a manager, where she was asked to wait for a manager for two hours, only to find that he had left for the day.

The next Monday morning, Shaw went back to the office with a hammer and demolished the customer service representative's monitor, keyboard and telephone. People ducked under desks and called the police whilst Shaw shouted: "Have I got your attention now?"

I’m sure this story is one that will get many laughs, and even a few cheers. But it’s important to understand what actually happened here, and ultimately, what we can learn.

Shaw’s response reflects a classic example of an all-out customer service failure. She was passed from pillar to post hoping that the next person would be able to resolve the issue until she reached boiling point.

This result stems from agents at Comcast who were not empowered to own the customer’s problem, and therefore had no desire or willingness to work with Shaw to resolve it. Call centre disengagement quickly stems from environments where performance is measured with an overemphasis on efficiency fail to make agents accountable, and resolving difficult customer issues quickly become more hassle than they’re worth.

Tackling call centre disengagement.

Call centres can take measures to reverse this culture by championing engagement rather than a relentless focus on efficiency. Agents who are engaged have an investment in the needs of the customer, the success of the business, and pride in their own work.

Comcast could have avoided the wrath of Shaw and her hammer if they had balanced staff performance measures to ensure individual efficiency was balanced with customer experience. Enabling staff to think about their performance from the customer’s point of view alongside traditional metrics allows them to do a job well, and efficiently.

Liberate your staff by allowing them to own a problem to resolution. They will learn, feel the rewards that come from a new challenge in a sometime monotonous role, and will be able to share their knowledge, skills and enthusiasm with colleagues.

Just like most customers, Shaw ideally wanted a resolution, but underneath she just wanted to feel that her problems were important and somebody wanted to help. Call centres can shift the employee focus from closing down a call, to opening it up in search of a resolution - this enables agents to understand, help and resolve the issue at hand. Resolution will not always be possible in the first instance, but the customer will know your business is on their side.

This is why engagement is key. Call centre disengagement means staff care little about the customers they deal with on a day to day basis. Customers who feel unsupported are likely to grow frustrated, turn away from your brand, and in some cases, smash your call centre with a hammer.

Engaged staff will embrace problems with enthusiasm, seek to resolve issues, and deliver much more to your business and customers - they just need to be empowered and recognised.