Customer Service Interaction – The Most Dreaded Moment in Customer Experience


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Despite my best efforts to fix problems on my own, sometimes I just have to call for help – whether I have a downed service, need to repair a broken gadget or appliance, or just need to fix the billing mistakes made by the service provider. As a customer, when it means it’s time to bite the bullet and give them a ring, is like my worst nightmare coming true, when I realize “I Will Have To Call Customer Care/ Support/ Service/ Success – whatever term an organization fancies to use.”

As a customer experience consultant, hearing that the customer has to rely only on customer care to resolve their problem, denotes a service experience failure.  Companies may try to whitewash it away by describing it as or “a service anomaly” or “something we’re working on” or  “service exception,” but it is simply a fail.

Real life experience – stranger than fiction

My shopaholic sister has collected many loyalty points from different retailers and received lots of marketing offers and discounts. Recently her favorite retailer had launched a SALE. As I had few gift vouchers to be redeemed at this retailer where my sister had amassed loyalty points, I decided to take advantage of it. The fact that I can shop without spending too much cash get to redeem my gift vouchers and loyalty points, and I may get some additional offers and discounts with the sale on, was enticing enough, so I started shopping with my sister.

We had a pretty good shopping experience so far.   A couple of hours later, after waiting in a longish queue for our turn to settle the bill at this store, we got a rude shock, when the store clerk asked us to pay $5875.  The mental math my sister and I had done, indicated that after redeeming the gift vouchers and loyalty points, we had to pay about $500 extra.

On enquiring and asking the store clerk to recheck our loyalty point entitlement, the dreaded words were out – “you cannot redeem your gift voucher, and only 50% of the accumulated loyalty points can be redeemed as we have a sale. To avail the loyalty points, you will have to call customer care with your receipt number.”

So on top of an utterly confusing and complicated loyalty program structure that doesn’t care for an already loyal customer, the retailer won’t credit gift vouchers when they have a SALE?  Wow!

The outcome: We dropped our shopping bag and walked out of the store. My sister, the loyal customer, swore never to return to the store and started sharing this negative experience with her friends.

(Note: The loyalty points seemed like a fiasco, as my sister could not redeem when she wanted to. This failure imprinted a strong negative impression in our memory.

For any business, the ultimate moment of truth is when they make a sale. If this retailer understood the Peak-End Rule, they would be doing everything in their power to make the purchase experience hassle free and friction free and not unpleasant and explore how they could smoothen the path for the customer in the future. It a rule explained by Behavioural Economist Daniel Kahneman, in which an experience or event makes its mark in our minds, and is judged based on what happens at the end than in the beginning.)

My interpretation of the negative customer service interactions  

For me the aha moment is when a single live person,  the company’s representative can take care of my issues, however obscure. When such an experience happens, I for one feel a sense of gratitude, that I could complete my dealings for that particular matter with an organization in a single go.

But, often this is not the reality.

In the era of customer service experience, a negative interaction is like making the customer feel unempowered  and saying “thank you for choosing us for your one-way ticket to Utopia, we have now closed the sale of the return ticket…”

The negative experience and my interpretation…at times it also drives me to their competition
negative Customer Service Interaction

The takeaway is this: Having a pleasant experience at every touchpoint is critical for the customers to remain engaged and loyal. They are most interested in a hassle-free, friction-free experience. So by removing the barriers at the different moments of truth and timely resolution of their service and support issues, you will not just WoW them, but get them to become loyal customers eventually.

So what to do as a customer experience consultant?

The best solution is to make sure that every employee is a customer service representative and every department is a customer service department. However, this is easier said than done.

To kickstart the process, you could do the following (not necessarily in the order shared):

  1. Treat service experience as a strategic imperative and disruptive game changer
  2. Hire the right people having a customer-centric mindset and empower them with great tools
  3. Continually educate, train, and encourage your staff to offer exceptional service
  4. Understand what your customer’s needs and wants, listen when they say something and proactively take action based on what they tell you.
  5. Be aware of the customer touchpoints along the different stages of their experience journey and remove friction from them
  6. Build a visible omnichannel presence of the brand and revisit your business model
  7. Remember, customer service is people intensive requiring empathy, so strike the right balance between digital and being human
  8. Share handy knowledge. Solve problems and educate them.
  9. Deliver service fast, and anticipate future needs
  10. Provide a consistently delightful experience to existing customers to retain them for life.
  11. Make promises, that you can honor reliably and consistently
  12. Connect every employee’s KRA with the customer

You may consider dismantling the customer service department. You could also organize few design thinking workshops to get all the relevant stakeholders identify the cause of the experience failures, and redesign and implement the new experience you want to provide.

Every time someone has to call customer service; the internal team needs to ask themselves following questions:

  • How do we identify and resolve irritations and failures?
  • How to connect the dots between irritations and emotions?
  • Is our process easy or too complicated?
  • How to prioritize and validate fixes?
  • Are customers feeling highly stressed or relaxed as they feel in control with the support?
  • What would it take for our front line and behind the scene people to handle it?
  • How to get insights into unmet needs for defining opportunities?

In the meanwhile, you may want to consider a third-party assessment of your organization’s current state of customer experience and take their inputs on what the future should look like.

If a company is serious about providing an excellent experience, they will have to clear the experience cobwebs gathered by decisions driven by in-house efficiency over customer delight. The mantra for introducing anything new or redesign existing touchpoints gets dictated by the need to serve the customer better, with the front and backstage representatives working in sync to provide ultimate experience

Soon, customer service interactions will no longer be the most dreaded moment in customer experience.

Article was first posted in Maketers Touchpoint Blog

Vidya Priya Rao
Vidya Priya Rao (PhD), is the Founder and Director of Innovatus Marketers Touchpoint LLP, a customer experience, design thinking and marketing consulting firm based in Mumbai, India. She is a design thinking/service design thinking decoder and promotes a proven approach to build a design-led innovation culture. She is also a visiting faculty at leading B-Schools in India. She is an Executive, Marketing & Sales Coach, Trainer, and Keynote Speaker.


  1. In our contact center transformation, we found out giving few “dimensions” for agents to follow made a huge difference in our service delivery. For example:
    – acknowledge: acknowledge to the customer that there is a problem and we are sorry for it
    – knowledgeable: show our customer that we have knowledge about our products and services
    – efficient: provide fast and efficient service
    – control: give control to customer to make decision
    – choice: provide choices to customer

    simple guideline which allows for consistent service delivery has made a huge difference for us


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