How the Shuffling Assassin Kills Customer Experience

By Roy Barnes, Bob Kelleher

What do customers want? Lots of things. But at the top of the list is for it to be easy to do business with you. Unfortunately, however, this wish doesn’t always come true, particularly if the customer runs into a problem. Often, something that seems like it should be very simple to fix winds up taking hours, days, or even weeks because organizations end up shuffling their customers around.

More often than not, this is a result of companies having an inside-out view. Sometimes, business processes that work just fine from an internal perspective are a nightmare for customers to navigate. And herein lies the root of the shuffling assassin experience killer.

What causes this kind of experience killer? Nine times out of ten, it’s due to how most companies are structured organizationally. Typically, the bigger and more complex an organization is, the more likely it is for parts of the company to specialize in certain technical functions. This compartmentalization may lead to enhanced technical proficiency but it often results in the creation of isolated functional silos — a castle mentality.

What does this mean? Many mid-size to large organizations operate more like a group of individual castles dotting the landscape than as an integrated whole, working together to serve the needs of their customers. Worse, the inhabitants of each castle don’t particularly like those other employees who live in the other castles. Yes, they work for the same company but they are not “their people”; they are “others.”

Think of what a castle looks like. What’s the first thing you notice? Yes, there are thick stone walls with towers along the top. Good for self-defense around budget time. And yes, the windows are probably pretty small — the better to shoot arrows from without exposing oneself to danger. But don’t forget the moat.

In most cases, the inhabitants of a castle, like the members of an organizational department, don’t really want outside visitors. After all, if you’re happily ensconced in your Operations Castle, do you really want someone from the HR Castle dropping in to visit? No. How about IT? Nope. Folks from the Legal Castle . . . heaven forbid!

That’s what the moat is for: to keep people out. But the moat also keeps people in. Thanks to the moat, what happens in the castle stays in the castle, and each castle ends up creating its own mini-culture within the broader organization.

So where is the customer in all this? Odds are, he’s stuck being shuffled from castle to castle — that is, between different departments, agents, or levels of support — in an attempt to resolve his problem. Nothing kills customer experience quite like getting shuffled! This seemingly endless shuffling is a major experience killer.

Imagine this scenario: You experience a problem with a product or service, so you contact the provider’s call center for help. You explain your problem to the individual who answers the phone. She in turn asks you several questions to assess your needs. She then determines who in her organization can help you, and transfers you to that person.

Now, depending on what type of organization you’re dealing with, you’ll get either a warm transfer or a cold transfer. With a warm transfer, the person with whom you were speaking introduces you to the person you’ll talk to next. That’s the nicest option.

More likely, you’ll be cold transferred. With a cold transfer, the person you’re talking to says something along the lines of, “I can’t help you. You’ll need to talk to someone in another department. Let me transfer you.” Then you hear a click followed by silence.

Assuming you haven’t been hung up on by accident, you’ll eventually be connected with the next agent, at which point you’ll have to explain your problem all over again. This may happen any number of times.

You can be shuffled for all sorts of reasons. Typically, however, it’s because of the way in which a particular company has decided to segment its customer response, using a system of escalation parameters to connect you and your problem to the person who can solve it. The result? A lousy customer experience.

To beat the shuffling problem, you need to think about all the different kinds of customer support you offer. Then decide how many transfers are acceptable for a customer to get her problem solved. Here are some quick tips:

  • Make it easy for customers (and prospective customers) to contact you in the way that works best for them. You want to be able to address most common customer concerns with one click, text, call, or email.

  • Take a hard look at your integrated voice response (IVR) system to make sure it isn’t unnecessarily convoluted. Better yet, have an actual living human answer the phones. Many of our clients have restructured or completely eliminated their IVRs, while cutting average customer response time in half.

  • Have the employee who first connects with a customer stay with that customer all the way through the resolution of his problem.

  • Make sure information about your products and services is updated, accurate, and easy to access.

  • Make it easy for customers to determine which product or service is the best fit. That means enabling customers to easily compare your offerings (and those of your competitors). Be sure your product and service specifications are standard within both your organization and your industry.