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When the key differentiator is rubbish service, agent empowerment matters.

Just after the new year, Scottish Power was awarded the infamous Wooden Spoon award for the UK’s worst customer service. It’s not the most desirable accolade, especially for a company with 5.5 million customers – a very large number that some customer service experts will argue is the main cause of the forever-waning customer experience.

A large company usually has to deal with a seemingly large number of complaints, and these aren't necessarily a large percentage of total customers. Most energy sector heavyweights are more than well equipped with the resources and manpower to deal with volume – but that’s not the problem.

We typically see the same few names win the same shameful ‘awards’ for terrible customer service year in, year out. They all appear to have one thing in common. They deal with everyday services and products that are essential, but not desirable.

Services like energy and telecoms don’t have the sexiest image in the UK; they are simply necessary utilities. We’re currently seeing the same process occur with broadband Internet. The nature of necessities like energy is that we need them all the time and as such they are expected to work to a consistent standard. When that consistency is disturbed it becomes a real issue for the customer, and the organisation needs to react tactfully to resolve this early on.

This brings us on to the next part of the problem.

Many of the issues surrounding notoriously bad customer service arise from the inability to deal with a problem, not the sheer volume or severity of the issues themselves. The more of a necessity a service is, the more an upset will occur when the business can’t recover from an issue and provide the customer with a solution.

Over time, the process-driven operational ethos surrounding customer service functions in companies has manifested itself to the detriment of its customers. Nothing highlights this quite as well as a recent Guardian article commenting on the current state of customer service:

In customer service we see the alienation of modern life. We are helpless before the endless rounds of bureaucracy, the many layers of deflection, the call centres located all around the globe. Companies spread their responsibilities and tasks are outsourced so that you never know who you really have to talk to in order to resolve a problem.

So, why is this so often the case?

The perfect illustration can be found in this Metro listicle that outlines, from an agent’s point-of-view, the ubiquitous attitude found in call centres in regards to owning an issue. It describes,

The ping pong of a customer between departments. ‘Sorry, we only deal with X here, you need to call Y.’ When it was Y that put me through to X.

The mantra in contact centres is more often than not ‘make sure you own the issue’. But rarely do the operational realities enable agents to do this effectively because of an emphasis on policies and processes, coupled with a siloed & disparate ownership of service channels.

In many service industries their offering is now viewed as a basic need and along with price, ‘slipping up’ is the key brand and experience differentiator. It’s a race to the bottom and staff need to be empowered to own the experience and the service recovery - this is where the brand magic happens.

They must be supported, encouraged and rewarded when When the key differentiator is rubbish service, agent empowerment matters.making sure the resolution of a customer issue is their primary responsibility – FCR, efficiency, adherence, sales through service, NPS will follow as a result.

Empower your staff to deliver a positive experience that works for your customers and business, use coaching, quality and customer feedback to facilitate the empowerment and gamification to incentivise and support the behavioural changes

Next week, in part two of this blog series we will be exploring what companies can do in order to restructure the detrimental lack of agent empowerment in their customer service strategies.