Does your customer service only treat the symptoms?


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When a person gets injured, it’s common to start treating them by addressing their symptoms: alleviate the pain, stop the bleeding, etc. After all, they are adding to the patient’s agony and might cause their condition to worsen yet are readily treated with painkillers or a bandage. With the pain subsided or the bleeding stopped, the immediate misery is over. The patient now feels a lot better and can begin to recover.

But what if the injury is more than a simple cut or an aching leg? Bad wounds can become infected over time. What might seem like a sprain could actually be a broken bone. If the cause of the original symptoms isn’t properly diagnosed and addressed, the patient might never get any better; in fact, they might even take a turn for the worse. They will also lose faith in their medical care provider’s abilities.

This same scenario exists when addressing customer issues.

Answers not permanent solutions

Just as medicine and dressings address the patient’s symptoms, so too can customer service administer answers that solve the pressing issue. With the immediate problem solved, a customer can be on their way. The problem is the underlying reason the customer called, emailed, or chatted might still exist.

That issue is typically as a result of a broken process somewhere outside customer service. Was it a billing issue caused by an error in Finance? Was it unclear directions written by the Product Team? Was it incorrect order tracking information provided by the Shipping department?

In any one of those scenarios, it would be very easy for a customer service agent to simply address the issue– issue a credit, explain instructions, or look up a tracking number– and move on to the next customer. But what if there a larger issue actually exists? Finance’s processes might have incorrectly billed a larger set of customers. More customers might find the product instructions confusing and require assistance. Additional customers who received incorrect tracking information will contact customer service trying to locate their order.

Bleeding company resources

The first time an agent (or several agents) responds to these scenarios, it might appear to be an isolated incident. Lacking proper case tracking, internal collaboration, and trend analysis, indicators of them being widespread would be missed and a proper triage and diagnosis would not occur. As a result, customer service agents will repeatedly respond to these same issues.

This over-and-over again process comes at a cost to the company. The obvious costs are the agents’ time responding to the issue and costs associated with delivering services, such as the telephone, email, and chat communications channels. Less obvious are costs such as the impact on other customers who, though they might not be experiencing any of these problems, must queue up and wait for assistance with their question or issue. (Consider them to be collateral damage.)

There’s an employee cost to consider, as well. Customer service agents can easily become bored or frustrated when they are forced to address the same issues day-after-day. That sentiment might manifest itself in a poor attitude and tone as they serve customers or their eventual departure (voluntarily or otherwise) and the loss of knowledge and talent.

Broken experience

This brings us to an even greater cost at stake: the customer experience. Just as a patient lacking a proper diagnosis and eventual cure loses confidence in their doctor, so too do customers lose trust as they encounter issues.

Every customer is a little different–maybe it’s the first time they have a problem, maybe it’s when they experience multiple problems (or worse, encounter the same problem a second time). Each time they need help from a company, that customer experience erodes. (And don’t forget the poor experience for those customers on hold with other issues.) Customers chose your product or service to solve a problem with little to no effort, not create new headaches for them.

If it sounds like the stakes are high, it’s because they are. Companies today are competing to provide the best possible customer experience. What might seem like a minor issue is all it takes to create distrust and detractors.

Address the cause

So what’s the answer?

It starts by looking beyond individual customers and their questions and issues. Cases must be tracked and the reasons for customer contact categorized and monitored. By doing so, trends can be identified early on.

From there, customer service must engage with other internal teams–like Finance, the Product Team, and Shipping, from the examples above. Together, they work to triage customer problems, understand the underlying root cause, and create a plan to permanently resolve it.

Granted, some customers will have suffered from the issue prior to its identification and ultimate solution. However, by addressing the root cause, this ensures no future customers will encounter it. The fracture in the customer experience is then healed.

Customer service practitioners know the cycle of customer problems can seem never-ending. As the business and its processes change, new issues will emerge that impact customers. But there is hope. When customer service works collaboratively with other departments to identify and address the root cause, issues are eliminated and the impact on customers and the business can be minimized.

Paul Selby
I am a product marketing consultant for Aventi Group. Aventi Group is the first product marketing agency solely dedicated to high-tech clients. We’re here to supplement your team and bring our expertise to bear on your top priorities, so you achieve high-quality results, fast.


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