In Customer Service, You Must Choose Between Speed and Wow. Or Do You?


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Source: ThinkStock
Source: ThinkStock

Our client’s customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores were below goal and there was pressure to turn them around. I spoke with members of that team and they cited policies and various product failures as the probable drivers for lower CSAT.

This particular client also had several outsourcing vendors with multiple agents touching the same tickets, making it difficult to know which one agent or vendor was to blame for the dissatisfaction. That didn’t stop the client from drawing a line in the sand and comparing one vendor’s performance to another.

This sounded a lot like a blame game that we didn’t have time for. We needed to do what we could to improve CSAT and fast. As I began diving into dissatisfied cases it became very clear that some of our agents were responding quickly to tickets using pre-written canned responses (AKA macros). This generally isn’t a huge problem, except that these ones were fraught with legalese and lacked some of the elements key to great emails.

My assumption was that our agents needed some training on how to write more engaging emails. This would require coaching where we’d practice using macros and adding the appropriate personalization — essential ingredients like an upbeat greeting, empathy, acknowledgement, and a willingness to help solve the customer’s problem. We’d even talk about the brand voice and practice writing in that particular style. It was almost too easy. CSAT would skyrocket overnight.

I pulled aside small groups of agents on the team and began practicing responding to emails. We were having a ton of fun. That was until one agent stopped me in my tracks and said:

“We used to write really personable emails but the client told us to stop because we had a huge backlog and needed to work through the queue faster.”

I didn’t know that. At some point in time, someone in the organization had placed more emphasis on the speed of responses over the quality.

The Speed vs Quality Identity Crisis

Our customer service appetite has skewed a bit in recent years toward “Wow.” These are the stories that make great YouTube videos and fit nicely into books and keynote addresses. But don’t be surprised if members of your operations team look at you with a degree of skepticism when you tell them you want agents to try to recreate Joshie the Giraffe or this Netflix chat conversation that only a Trekkie would understand.

As an outsourcer, we work with companies in a variety of stages and it’s interesting to observe brand new startups that set out to pattern their customer service after the Wow. We generally hear them say things like “The customer is always right” and “Take all the time you need” and “Spare no expense to give the customer a great experience.”

There’s a shift that happens when company growth accelerates and teams start playing catch up on a daily basis. While the values the company held to so firmly as a start up are still stated and even plastered on the office walls, pressure to meet productivity metrics like average handle time and tickets per hour becomes more prominent.

Let’s face it, when a company is really growing, they often find themselves chasing the optimal staffing level required to handle the ever increasing workload. Failing to respond to customers in a timely manner becomes a greater fear than whether or not the customer is delighted. At this point, it seems a tad impractical to have one rep spend ten hours on the phone with a customer.

You Can Have Speed AND Wow

So it seems we’re left to choose between service that’s quick and efficient and service that goes after a Wow on every interaction. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In order for a customer service operation to scale effectively with the business, it’s essential to have both. Here are a couple recommendations to ensure quality customer service, with the occasional Wow mixed in there, while still being efficient.

Macros are friend, not foe.

There’s a stigma around macros because companies and agents use them wrong. When used incorrectly, they are no more than canned responses that may or may not completely address a customer’s issue. When used correctly, they provide some of the technical “meat” of the conversation, ensuring that consistent information is given to customers, without agents having to regurgitate it from scratch every time. Macros also automatically take care of any tagging and categorization on cases, saving more valuable agent time.

There are a few practices I’ve seen with clients that make a huge difference in their macro usage:

  • Establish your brand voice. Be sure to establish a clear brand voice that’s used in all customer-facing communication. Not only should marketing use this but the customer service team should be trained and fluent in this voice.
  • Invest in content writers. Like any written documentation, macros can become stale and outdated quickly. You’ll be well-served to devote the time of some of your subject matter experts, who also happen to be great writers, to write, update, and manage your macros. Companies like Miuros are working to give valuable insights like tying customer satisfaction to the different macros your team is using so you can get a good picture of which macros are accurately addressing customer issues.
  • Focus on tailoring emails to connect with customers. No macro is ever good enough to send to a customer as is. There should always be a healthy level of personalization injected into the response. This includes the aforementioned elements like the greeting, acknowledgement of the issue, empathy, and a clear willingness to help. This type of writing doesn’t come naturally to all of your agents, but it’s a skill that can be learned, with practice and a consistent focus in your quality assurance efforts.

Technology can free your agents to connect with customers.

Wow experiences happen when agents are free to focus on the customer’s unique needs in that moment. The more procedural requirements to fulfill and remember during each interaction, the less likely they’ll be to focus on the customer. Here are some ways technology is helping with this.

  • Use AI to assist with responses. Companies like Digital Genius and are using AI to interpret what customers are saying and presenting the appropriate macro for agents to respond to the customer. When you have a huge, growing list of macros to choose from, it’s time consuming to find the right one. I’ve crossed paths with a handful of companies, like Cogito, trying to do something similar for voice and think there’s a lot of opportunity for AI to assist agents with those conversations as well.
  • Simplify your agent experience. Take a moment to count how many different applications your agents are required to have open to handle each customer interaction. For example, the average phone conversation might require them to have a phone app, company website, CRM, knowledge base, and ticketing system open simultaneously. I’ve heard reports of agents having 10-15 different applications open in order to do their job. This is why Zendesk’s App Marketplace, Salesforce’s AppExchange, and Talkdesk’s AppConnect are so important. If you use any of these platforms, you can connect your various apps together and allow agents to focus more on the customer.


As customer service leaders, it’s tempting to hit the panic button and focus solely on productivity metrics when queues get busy. While there’s certainly a time and a place for this, remember that there’s often a tradeoff between quality and efficiency. If efficiency, means responding to customers with incomplete, inaccurate answers, the consequences are more customer issues to respond to and increased customer churn.

The good news is that there doesn’t have to be a tradeoff. By effectively using macros and leveraging the right technology, you can have speed and Wow.


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