Category Archives: Contact centre

How we train our customers to go to our competitors

Angry customer

A customer complaint is a favour

Customers complain about every business.

If we are lucky, customers complain to us.  Then we can put things right, help fix their problem and learn things which make our business better.

If we are not so lucky, our customers complain to their friends, or to people they meet, or to their followers on social media.  The result? Our reputation is damaged,  we  lose revenues and we open the door to competitors to show our customers how much better they are.

We train customers not to complain to us

Why don’t customers complain to us? Because we train them not to.


Let me explain some of the ways we do so:

We make it hard to complain
Many organisations seem to do their damnedest to make it hard for customers to complain.  Typically we do this to save money.  Most of the time this is a false economy.  Some examples:

  • We don’t make it clear to customers how they should communicate with us.
  • We make it hard for customers to contact a real person.
  • We require customers to fill in forms.
  • We require them to have their account number / service id number / customer reference number before we can help them.
  • We make them wait on hold.
  • We push them to use email (which is slower) and hide our service telephone numbers.

All of these measures stop customers complaining. Result? They (and their sales revenues) go elsewhere.

We are slow to respond
We seemed to move fast enough when we were selling our product to the customer, didn’t we? So why don’t so many organisations respond as quickly to a complaint? Sure, we may have excuses:

  • Perhaps we don’t want to talk to them before we have sorted everything out.
  • Perhaps we are having trouble working out who should be dealing with the complaint.
  • Or, perhaps, we don’t know who in our organisation has the job of keeping the customer informed.

Customers don’t care why we’re slow.  They just want it fixed – NOW. If we don’t show the same sense of urgency as they are feeling, we are showing that we don’t care.

When a complaint disappears into a black hole, we cannot be surprised if we have lost the customer by the time the complaint emerges.

We respond in ways which do not respect the customer
(Warning: linked article contains profanity)

Customers making a complaint are unhappy.  They are often angry. Often, this is the fault of something we have done or failed to do.  And they have bought things from us in good faith.

At the very least, we should treat them with respect. What does respect for the customer look like?

  • It means listening to the customer; showing that we have heard them.
  • It means we don’t make them repeat themselves.
  • It means we keep our promises  – to look into their problem or to speak to a colleague, or to put it right.
  • It means we don’t make promises we can’t keep.

And, above all, it means treating the customer as a person, and treating them as we would want to be treated.

We treat the customer as a suspect
All too often customer services go wrong because they have been designed from the outset to treat the customer with suspicion.

The result is a customer experience based on one or more of these assumptions:

  • We haven’t made a mistake, you have.
    “No-one else has complained.”
  • Our products aren’t stupid, you are.
    The instruction on paragraph 6.4.2 of the user manual is quite clear: to restore the service you have to hold the product upside down and press reset button on the underside for between 4 and 7 seconds. You mean haven’t done that?
  • We think you’re trying to cheat us.
    Yes, I know that this is our product and it shouldn’t be broken like that, but unless you have your receipt we can’t help you“.
  • We think you’re lying.
    The system can’t crash like that. Are you sure that’s all you were doing?”

Occasionally, of course, customers do behave badly; but if we start from here, the experience we offer our unhappy customers is very likely to make them feel worse.

Even if we fix the problem, we are likely to lose the customer.

It is much better to think about helping customers on the assumption that they are correct and that they have a valid reason for complaint.

After all, something has  made them want to get in touch, so something about what we are doing must be wrong.

Moreover, a complaining customer is one who is engaged – isn’t that what most of our companies want? Engagement with the customer?

Why not begin instead by designing our service operation from the assumption that we want to help people?

Then, after we have done this, we can put in place some reasonable safeguards, just in case the problem really is on the customer side.

But let’s stop doing it the wrong way round.

Think afresh about complaints

We need to think about complaints differently.  A customer who complains is giving us a gift.

They are giving us another chance to get their custom; they are giving us a chance to restore – or maybe enhance – our reputation; and they are giving us a chance to learn from their experience to make things better for others.

It’s a gift we need to be better at taking.

(Image credit: Lythia Scott Eiler, US National Archive)


Contact centres – the end of 28 days later

28 DaysContact centres aren’t perfect, but they are better than what went before.  They are here to stay, even while we continuously improve their performance.  Contact centre transformation is easier when we don’t lose sight of the core reason for the centre in the first place: to enable customers to talk to our company, buy things and get help.  

28 days.

Nowadays it has a different association (see illustration) but many of us in the UK still associate this timeframe with a familiar phrase:  “Please allow 28 days for delivery.”

It was a routine part of the terms and conditions for mail order.

A serious customer journey

Mail order, of course, meant not just receiving goods by post, but ordering them by post as well.  Find the product you wanted in a newspaper (or magazine or catalogue), fill in a paper form, cut it out, write out a cheque for payment, put them both in an envelope, address the envelope, put a stamp on it, go to a post box, post it…

…and wait.

For up to 28 days.

Almost a month.

Then when the parcel arrives, open it and see if what you have received is anything like the black and white image in the original advertisement.  Or the right size.  Or if it works properly.  And has not been damaged in transit.

And if it’s not right, begin the whole rigmarole again. In reverse.

Not, by any measure, an ideal customer journey.

Contact Centres make it better

Contact centres changed all that.  Want to buy something? Call up, place the order and it will be dispatched quickly.  Problem with a product or service? Call up and the agent will handle your problem or help explain what we need to do to resolve it.

Sure, none of us like being put on hold or to have to navigate through endless sequences of IVR numbers; and many of us have service disasters we can recount about when we got to speak to the agent from hell, but we forget, sometimes, how much better it is than it used to be.

Oddly, the internet hasn’t killed off the contact centre. Despite that we can now order things and services online from our laptops and tablets and mobiles, many of us still want to call up and talk to someone. And when things go wrong, while email, customer forums and online chat are all very well, many of us still want to call up and talk to someone.


Because our lives are complicated and what we want is complicated and our problems are complicated and sometimes we need to explain to someone – a person – what we want, and have them confirm that they have understood what we want, and that something will be done about it.

And a website can’t do that.

Sometimes, of course, it doesn’t work this way, and every one of us has a horror story to tell. But most of the time it does, and often, it works very well indeed.

Contact centres enable this experience.  And they continue to do so: while most now also handle customer communications across a range of channels, the customer telephone call tends be the heart of the operation.

Keep sight of the purpose

The challenge facing all of us who work with customers, however, is how we equip our people in contact centres to deliver a service which is consistently good, and consistently cost-effective – while  customers remain complex people with changing needs, and the technologies available to customers and to us develop constantly.

I believe that the only way to succeed in meeting this challenge is to remember one thing:  the core purpose of the contact centre is to enable customers to talk to our companies, to buy and get help.

Everything we do in a contact centre is about doing this better.

And when it gets hard to do this – and it will – we can console ourselves with one fact: even when things aren’t great, for most of our customers, things are much, much better than they were.

Contact centres revolutionised how we engage with customers and vice-versa. People complain about  them, sure, but how many of us remember what it was like before they were commonplace? I, for one, don’t want to wait 28 days again…