Sunday, December 25, 2011

When Too Much Knowledge is a Bad Thing

In my last post, I talked about how important it is that a company staffs their call center with well-trained and knowledgeable service professionals. But is it possible for a customer service professional to know too much? It's possible, especially if they don't wield their power appropriately. As Peter Parker's uncle said, "with great power comes great responsibility."

The other day I popped into my local car parts store for help with my battery. I am not mechanically-inclined, but I try, and I have a great deal of respect for those who know their way around an automobile engine.

I approached the man behind the counter explaining my problem. He proceeded to bombard me with a series of jargon-riddled questions that I did not understand. In frustration, he finally told me that he couldn't help me without the battery. Fine, I told him, I'll bring it in. I asked if I could borrow a wrench to remove the battery and he asked what size. I told him the truth, that I wasn't sure. He shook his head, mumbled something about 1/4" and brought out a wrench. It was too big.

Honestly, I was afraid to go back in. Is this how your company makes customers feel? Another counter clerk saw my plight and helped me, but he was also a bit rude and stand-offish. I've seen this happen at every company I've worked for - customer service reps who think the customers share the same body of knowledge. Well guess what? They don't.

That's right. Most customers don't know what the power company's billing cycle is, or what PIP covers, or even what an EFT is--and we can't expect them to know this.

Here's what I teach: start with the lowest common denominator and work your way up from there. Your customer will tell you if they know more.

For example, if a customer calls an auto insurance company and asks what physical damage coverage is, an okay answer might be "comp and collision." A better answer would be "that is what covers damage to your vehicle and comes in two different forms: comprehensive and collision. Are you familiar with these terms?" Perfect. Descriptive, short, and most importantly: non-patronizing.

So when you monitor customer transactions look for this patronizing tone of voice and coach your customer service professionals appropriately. In fact, ask them if they've ever been made to feel stupid by someone at another company. Chances are they have.

Tashi Delek!

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