The CSAT Conundrum: Making Customers Happy vs. Limiting Concessions

This article was originally published on as part of my regular advisor column on October 13, 2017. Click here to read the original along with other terrific articles.

In a previous role, I remember when we switched our sign up from an opt-in model to opt-out. This change led to many calls from surprised customers, sometimes months down the road, who didn’t realize we were going to automatically bill their credit card. My team generally had the latitude in these cases to do whatever it took to make the customer happy, including a specific amount of money that they were allowed to credit customers. However, this practice did create an ongoing dialog with our CFO who wanted to keep these credits reigned in.

While I agreed we needed to be responsible, I feared that too much control would tie the hands of our team and negatively impact our high CSAT scores. I also didn’t want me or my team to be held accountable for low ratings caused by business decisions out of our control, nor were we thrilled about facing the wrath of our customers.

As support leaders, this can be a difficult spot to be in. I recommend a balanced approach to these issues and the related customer feedback. But first, let’s look at two companies and compare the way they respond when things go wrong for customers.

Two different approaches when things go wrong

Companies A and B are both subscription-based businesses. The products may be vastly different but the business models aren’t. In both cases customers sign up online, typically with a coupon or promo for a free first month. Unless customers specifically opt out, product is shipped to them, and their credit card is automatically billed monthly. For both companies, shipping on a monthly basis is core to what they do. Inevitably, shipments are sometimes late or don’t arrive at all. And when they do arrive, they’re occasionally damaged or incorrect. This triggers a contact to customer service.

In the spirit of doing whatever it takes to make the customer happy, the agents for Company A are empowered to, after spending a bit of time investigating what happened, ship out a replacement. They might even throw in a little extra item or offer an additional credit or coupon for future service. These sorts of issues are bound to happen and the company wants to do everything they can to get customers to use the product, even if it’s late. With the right amount of empathy and even apology, customers typically understand and even appreciate that the agent advocated for them.

Company B has more stringent policies for dealing with these issues. Customers have to haggle with support to receive any compensation at all. In the case of a damaged shipment, customers might have to first ship the product back, waiting a long time before receiving a replacement or a partial credit for service. Unless escalated to a manager, it’s highly unlikely they’ll receive any additional credit beyond what’s directly related to the problem itself. After all, the shipping company is actually the one to blame. As you can see, “making it right” requires much more effort for customers of Company B.

What’s driving customer (dis)satisfaction?

I’ve pulled many small groups of frontline customer service agents into conference rooms and asked them to list some of the top reasons customers are dissatisfied with the company they’re supporting. Whether they work for Company A or B, they can easily fill an hour as I fill a notepad with insights.

During all too many of these conversations I’ve seen the look of shellshock in the eyes of my colleagues. Typically from Company B, they describe how they’ve done everything they’re supposed to do on a customer interaction, but the customer is still dissatisfied because of a policy or flaw in the product that’s completely out of their control. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue, except that the company is holding THEM accountable for the negative rating.

And why shouldn’t the company hold them accountable? After all, the leaders at Company B have reviewed some of the dissatisfied customer interactions and found that agents could be more empathetic when working with customers that have the above mentioned issue. Furthermore, a stack rank of the team’s CSAT results reveals that Jenny, who’s one of the kindest people on the planet, consistently achieves a 92%. Carol, who’s kind but no Jenny, checks in around 84%. If Jenny garners high CSAT, why can’t Carol?

A balanced approach to CSAT

As a contact center leader, it can be difficult to know what to do next. Assuming you work for Company B, you have your boss on one hand telling you to limit the credits given out to customers while also holding you to a CSAT goal of 90% or better. For every speech you give to your customer service team about empathizing more with customers and being more creative with these situations, you get five back from your agents telling you that customers just want the company to make it right and no amount of empathy is going to help.

For all support leaders, including the ones in this boat, I recommend a balanced, holistic approach to improving CSAT. Here are four things to consider:

  • Dive into your CSAT results. Overall scores will only get you so far. You need to be well-versed in what’s driving CSAT up or down. You may find that in some cases, the quality of support is an issue, in others it’s the product, and in the rest it’s a combination of the two. Aim to get to the root cause.
  • Be careful about holding agents accountable to raw scores. To simply take a score at face value without gaining understanding can negatively affect your team. To mitigate this I’ve seen some clients expand their satisfaction survey slightly to ask specifically about the quality of the support from the agent and then ask separately about how the customer feels about the business. If you aren’t separating out product and support issues during the deep dive, adjusting your survey to do so can make it more equitable for your agents.
  • Always be prepared with your laundry list of issues. The name of the game is continuously improving your customer experience. Be prepared with your laundry list of issues that impact customer satisfaction. Knowing and prioritizing the top issues is the first step to actually working with other departments to get them fixed. Alleviating some of these issues helps your support team know that their feedback is valued. This may just be enough to keep them engaged in the work of connecting with customers and solving problems.
  • Marry quality assurance to CSAT. Customer satisfaction and quality aren’t mutually exclusive. Quality is what we think about the level of service we’re providing and CSAT is what our customers think. In a past column I talked about how we’re adding CSAT to our quality forms at FCR to get our supervisors and agents thinking about how the quality of their support impacts business goals. Sure there are going to be issues out of the control of agents, but a high level of quality is still essential while improving those other issues.

In the case of Companies A and B, can you guess which company consistently achieves higher CSAT scores? It’s company A and that’s the type of company we aimed to be.

Believe me when I say there’s no one silver bullet to accomplishing these results. It takes a balanced approach to your customer feedback along with a level of fiscal responsibility when it comes to “making it right for customers.” As a leader, if I could keep my agents engaged, upper management happy, and the customer experience moving forward, I knew we had struck the right balance.

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  • I came across your blog after posting a comment on Shep’s article today. I’m happy that I was a bit of a stalker to come across this blog. The past 5 years I’ve been working in a Contact Center. I made the switch from being an Event Coordinator to working for a Timeshare company providing that EXCELLENT customer service to our owners. (I’ve never worked in a call center!) I’m now the New Hire Trainer and I’m always looking for inspiration on how to deliver training on: How to be Empathic vs. Sympathetic.

    The above article is a struggle for me and our agents. We are constantly giving out exception after exception because we know that it increases our CSAT (OSAT in my world). “Do what it takes to make ’em happy!” On the flip side… we talk about limiting the number of exceptions that we give, because we’ve created some real “monsters” who know how to work the system. Yet we train to service with heart and that there can be gray area.

    It’s really a double edge sword, especially when our agents are on a R4P and it effects their pay. I train that a one time exception is truly a one time exception. But in the same breath, I am telling them that there is gray area, and that it can be case by case. This is hard for people to comprehend!

    Some time we have to say “NO more exceptions” and it comes up in that Survey that we’re horrible and our Customer Service is the worst ever! And it then hurts the R4P for the agent who took that call. Finding that happy marriage… is it really possible???

    • Hi Ashley, thanks for your comment. This is such a tricky balance and not an easy answer. I generally believe that being more customer-focused pays off but there’s always a balance that needs to be struck. Let’s keep this conversation going.

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