Admit it, you love it when you’re handed that Starbucks beverage with your name spelled neatly and correctly on the side. Maybe that’s where it all started: that innocent coffee cup with the green mermaid staring back at you. The trend of personalized customer experience has since transformed almost every industry as we know it. From the retail experience to social media connections to issue resolution via the contact center, customers want their individual needs known and reflected in the interactions, services, and products they pay for.
The upside to this personalized, high-touch service is the humanness of it all. When we stop seeing fellow human beings as mere transactions, surely that’s a good thing. The dark side is that for many customers, the expectation of personalization can be a direct path to a sense of entitlement. And a customer who feels they are owed the right to “special treatment” can quickly become an unhappy customer. Cue the angry phone calls and spiteful social posts.
It’s your contact center agents who are left to make things right and, hopefully, earn the customer’s continued loyalty – and they have to be well supported to do it effectively. So, what is the best way to support customers with extremely high service expectations? How do we deliver amazing customer experiences despite increasingly challenging stressors?
The Tools to Tackle Customer Entitlement
First and foremost, there needs to be a very tight relationship between the contact center team and the company leadership team. Everyone, from top to bottom, needs to have an equal commitment to providing an optimal customer experience, and there must be regular communication to determine what that looks like.
In our world, this takes the shape of a unified and documented blueprint of the customer journey, as well as the appropriate tools and systems to support that journey and equip agents to deliver the optimal experience. Omnichannel support, where all contact channels seamlessly integrate in real-time and the customer can transition without having to repeat themselves, is the best foundation to engage customers for the entire lifecycle. But we want to call out the impact of social media in the hands of customers whose expectations haven’t been met. We’ve all seen Twitter explosions over poor customer service (sorry, Comcast). So, for brands that seem to attract more than their fair share of snarky customers, proactive social media support teams are essential, as is a seamless transition from social media to other channels. Again, a smooth digital transition from social to an empowered agent is key.
A strategic Tier 2 support team may also be necessary. Often, with intensely disgruntled customers who feel they deserved better service, the situation often stands the best chance of recovery when your Tier 1 agent escalates the call to someone who is perceived as having greater authority. An efficient escalation process and a well-trained Tier 2 team who are expert communicators can make the difference between a lost customer and a loyal customer.
In some cases, the regular array of tools and resources aren’t enough, and more strategic solutions are required to satisfy frustrated customers. For example, a client of ours in the grocery sector recognized that simply providing a credit for missing or damaged items wasn’t enough for agents to be able to deliver an excellent experience. The stakes were too high for this standard solution to be completely effective. As it turns out, when it comes to food, people often react viscerally to a service mishap or product disappointment, and straightforward make-goods or discounts often don’t cut it. Our client realized they needed to achieve the near-impossible and provide ways for agents to truly win over customers who expected nothing less than perfect service. Part of their solution was a business partnership that allowed agents to facilitate the replacement and delivery of any missed or damaged items within mere hours.
Finally, in the rare case that we interact with a customer whose expectations go beyond the realm of possibility, we flag the contact for review with our client. This is where close collaboration is essential. We want our client engaged in deciding how to manage the customer relationship – we want to understand their decision-making process and use that intel when similar complex interactions arise in the future. It is the closed loop concept – feed the decisions back downstream to recruiting and training teams as well as agents and coach teams to get in front of the problem next time.
The Training to Prepare for Entitled Customers
What is the right hiring profile for a brand whose customers have sky high service expectations? The best agents in these scenarios are people who are highly self-aware and who do not feed off of negative energy – that’s a shortcut to losing customers left and right. We actively recruit for people who self-identify as able to create positive energy in others. We want solution-focused people who can empathize with every customer and can shake off the negativity that comes with handling a barrage of complaints. Even if it’s the fifteenth identical call of the day, a customer needs to believe their situation is unique, and that takes an agent with high emotional intelligence.
But being able to deliver amazing service to even the most entitled customer requires more than the right hiring profile. The training process has to start with imparting a comprehensive understanding of the brand an agent is serving. They need to understand the impact of the service or product they support on that customer’s life, time, family, or career. This foundational knowledge enables genuine interactions, in which angry customers come away with the belief that the agent understands their struggle and is as invested in figuring out a solution as the customer. Beyond comprehending the why and the how, your agents need to care. To paraphrase The Heath Brothers in their book, The Power of Moments, you don’t just need your agents to understand something, you need them to feel something. How outsourcers build that connection between agent/customer/client brand is the secret sauce – and if you are going to RFP for a new customer care provider, that’s where you should be probing for specific examples and process details.
The training doesn’t end in their first few days or weeks. A robust, ongoing coaching program is a necessity. You can’t expect someone to have the skills to handle challenging customers if they don’t know how well they’re doing or where they need improvement on regular interactions. Side-by-side coaching, opportunities for self-evaluation, and regular scorecards are all ways to help agents prepare for difficult interactions with entitled customers.
How to Support Your Toughest Customers
Maybe it’s generational or cultural – or simply a result of personable coffee mermaids; either way, today’s consumers believe they are entitled to and deserve “special” treatment. There is a whole host of studies and surveys out there trying to explain the topic of entitlement. Challenging customers are always going to show up, and your brand’s reputation depends upon how well you are able to serve them.