customer service question

Think about the most recent customer service call you were on. Do you remember the last question the agent asked you? The one right before they asked you to stay on the line for a quick survey. If it was something along the lines of “Have I fully resolved your issue today?” there might be a problem.

The authors of The Effortless Experience have definitively labeled that the worst question a customer service representative can ask. Not because agents should care less about resolving customer issues, but because customers usually don’t have the ability to correctly answer. It’s impossible to tell if their issue has been fully resolved because the they haven’t had time to see how the agent’s prescribed solution worked out.

Imagine the scenario in a different context: what if a waiter or waitress brought your order out from the kitchen, placed your food in front of you and immediately asked if you had enjoyed your meal. You could answer that it looked or smelled up to par, but you haven’t actually tasted it, so you wouldn’t be able to answer completely. The question isn’t bad, but the timing is.

The Effortless Experience ties this all back to the customer effort metric. Asking the wrong question at the end of a call could lead to unresolved issues, which means additional calls in the future, which drives up the effort required from the customer. The goal is to reduce overall effort, so customer service agents should prioritize habits that work better for the customer’s experience beyond the immediate call that they are handling.

The “fully resolved” question focuses too much on the present. Is the customer’s current problem solved right now? It doesn’t take into account what could have been done in the past or what can be done in the future to minimize effort. Part of this is due to a gap in metrics. For example, First Call Resolution can tell you exactly how well your agents are performing when resolving customer support requests, but it doesn’t tell you about the entirety of the customer’s journey.

What if instead, a company were to track the percentage of customers who needed to make service a call in the first place. As that number goes down, companies could be assured that they were proactively reducing customer effort. Similarly, companies can try to minimize additional calls in a certain period of time after a call is received. If the customer isn’t calling back during that period, it’s probably because the issue is truly resolved. That metric would prioritize a customer’s actions rather than a verbal response as a way of answering the “fully resolved” question.

Our team is building call center software with a focus on ease of use and keeping effort as minimal as possible. We recognize that it’s not enough to just suggest that a closing question is bad, we’d also like to make some suggestions about alternatives. Here are a couple of options that could help shift the focus away from the customer’s problem right now and move toward a focus on the other parts of their journey:

“What could have prevented this issue?”

This question is a way to research the customer journey before they felt the need to call about an issue. They might have answers and they might not. It might also be a good way to generate content for a self-service portal or knowledge base.

If customers keep calling with the same issues and the same suggestions about resolving it, maybe it’s time to rethink the content your team offers. It’s also just a humble way to show customers that you’re listening to their problems and illustrate how you’re building solutions for the future.

“What did you try before you called?”

This is another research question aimed at getting into the customer’s shoes and seeing what steps they take to resolve their issues. The answer might not solve their current problems but it can tell you what didn’t work and which steps the customer took in their self-service process.

This question also focuses on the customer’s past. The more research a company can do into the earlier stages of a caller’s experience with their products, the more likely they are to avoid future roadblocks. If every customer is unsuccessfully going to the same resource first, it might be time to either re-design that asset or start making better efforts to push customers somewhere else.

“Customers who have this problem usually call about ______ next, here’s what to do if that happens.”

This is not a question and it’s not designed to be one. It’s just a statement that illustrates a company’s commitment to next issue avoidance. It requires research into the issues customers at each stage of their journey are experiencing, but how impressive would it be if a customer service agent accurately predicted your next issue and solved it before you even knew you needed that solution?

For example, if a customer calls with a question about adding a new user to their account, the agent could look up the most common new user questions and direct that caller to a resource library for new users. Forward-thinking steps like this show customers that you genuinely want to reduce their effort and would almost certainly lead to increased loyalty.

No matter what you choose to ask your customers at the end of a survey, you need to think about what will ultimately provide the most value for them. It’s up to you to consider all of the factors that play into that question and come up with something that will inform your company’s process the best.

To see some additional insights we learned about customers at last year’s Opentalk Summit, click on the banner below.