The 5 Essential Behaviors Before Concluding Customer Interactions

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Early in my career as a contact center manager, I did many things that make me cringe nowadays. One such thing was requiring my team to end every call by asking customers, “Is there anything else I can help you with.” I rode that high horse for a long time — even marking team members down on their quality evaluations for failing to end calls with that simple question. 

In an article, that is still one of my most commented-on blog posts, I spoke of the true intent of this question. I still firmly believe that the folks serving customers should be focused on caring for them until all of their issues have been resolved. Let’s take this a step further and anticipate and answer additional questions customers might not even think to ask. Most people working in the contact center industry call this First Contact Resolution or Next Issue Avoidance.

While that’s most certainly the goal, what happens all too often is that “Is there anything else I can help you with?” actually means, “Customer, you’ve been talking for a long time. Can we please end this call now?” And if that’s how we’re going to use the question — to force an end to our customer interactions — we’ve lost sight of the true meaning of the question.

A few observations about requiring agents to ask and say specific things

As I listened to customer interactions and even tried to incorporate this question into my own interactions, I noticed a few things:

  • There are many interactions where you can sincerely ask the customer if there are other issues you can assist them with. I once heard Chip Bell rephrase the question to “What else can I help you learn today?” giving the customer the opportunity for an open-ended response. I don’t actually think it’s a silly question as long as it’s used in the right context.
  • Asking the question at the wrong time makes us sound like robots. For example, when an agent asks the question after the customer has already said “That’s all I needed today” it sounds forced and unnatural. Perhaps it would have been better to say something like, “Well, if you find that you need us in the future, we’re always here for you.” In a time when bots are all the rage, we can ill-afford for the humans to sound more like bots.
  • Agents hate being forced to ask and say things unnaturally and customers are often annoyed. In the context of point #2 it sounds like the agent wasn’t listening to the customer. And chances are that the agent didn’t deliver the question with much care and conviction. This has the potential to change the course of what was otherwise a pleasant and productive customer interaction. 

Ugh, the last two points here breed two behaviors that are just so pointless in contact centers. The first is contact center agents who opt to follow a checklist rather than making human connections with customers — and customers can tell that the agent is following a checklist. A handy dandy checklist isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless it represents agents doing the absolute minimum requirement during customer interactions.

The second pointless behavior occurs when supervisors and managers reinforce this doing-the-minimum behavior. They do so by only reviewing customer interactions during routine quality assurance evaluations based on a checklist rather than encouraging and coaching agents to make human-to-human connections. I’ve certainly been guilty of listening to the last 15 seconds of a phone call to see if the question was asked and disregarding the rest — a definite no-no!

Does the question apply to text-based channels?

Something I’ve been thinking about more in recent years is how this question applies to text-based customer support channels. In my current role, we primarily interact with customers by email. In these interactions, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” typically doesn’t flow naturally. 

The goal with a text-based channel is to provide as complete a response as possible so as to minimize unnecessary back and forth. In the case of email, additional required email responses potentially add hours or days to the resolution of a ticket. With that in mind, responses should be so good and so complete that they address everything the customer needs help with. But a good interaction still invites a customer to respond or even go in other directions until all of their issues have been solved.

Actions to ensure that there’s nothing else we can help customers with

Up to this point, I’ve said that I love the spirit of “Is there anything else I can help you with” but asking that question verbatim at the end of every customer interaction and on every customer support channel will likely not accomplish what you’re hoping for. And using it incorrectly could very well upset and annoy your customers. 

If we’re truly going to ensure that we address all of the customer’s issues and concerns here are five essential behaviors at the end of every customer interaction.

  1. Empower, empower, empower – This is quite possibly my favorite word in customer support. Empowerment is taking the time to anticipate the questions a customer didn’t think or know to ask. Our goal is to give customers the information we believe they’ll need so they won’t have to respond or call back unless absolutely necessary. Of course, we can’t always anticipate everything they’ll ask for or need but good contact center agents are experts and are often very intuitive in this area.
  2. Invite the customer to respond – One of my biggest fears is that a customer will read an emailed response, deem it unhelpful, and cancel their service or choose not to do business with us. Instead, I want them to always feel like they can respond and continue the dialog until they are completely satisfied with the service they’ve received. Here are a few phrases I like to send to customers to communicate this invitation:
    1. “If I haven’t addressed your question completely, please don’t hesitate to respond.”
    2. “I’m here to help! If you have any additional questions or issues, I’m happy to address them.”
    3. “I haven’t heard from you in a while and am closing your ticket. But have no fear, when you have the time to respond, we are absolutely here to help you out.”
  3. Ask the customer to complete a customer satisfaction survey – I know that a survey may seem overused and cliche but I find that it can also act as a safety net. Customers sometimes get busy or things get lost in the shuffle and a customer satisfaction survey can sometimes remind them that they still have unfinished business. In our ticketing system, if customers are dissatisfied their tickets are reopened and we’re reminded that there’s still work to be done. Negative responses stink but losing a customer because they are dissatisfied stinks even more.
  4. Keep the issue open until you’re sure it’s resolved – We have a saying at work where we keep customer tickets open until they have “achieved success.” Regardless of the customer support channel, an issue isn’t solved until the customer says it’s solved. In the event that a customer isn’t responsive, we should check in with them before considering their issue solved or closed.
  5. Ask “Is there anything else I can help you with?” in the right context – I couldn’t leave this one off the list. Alternatively, ask “What else can I help you with?” or “How else can I assist you today?” or “What else can I help you learn today?” or “Have I addressed all of your concerns today?” or any number of other variations. If you aren’t sure if the customer may have other questions or issues and you are not using it to rush the customer, it’s a totally valid question.

As I wrap up this post I have two challenges. To the contact center agent reading this, focus on achieving success for your customers. You are a professional and your mission is to care for customers. The words and phrases you use should only ever support and further that mission — never hinder it.

To the contact center leader, empower and equip your agents to achieve their mission as customer support professionals. Furthermore, give your agents the freedom to support customers, refusing to adhere too rigidly to metrics like average handle time (AHT). Requiring agents to ask questions like “Is there anything else I can help you with” without exception is lazy and instead should be one of many tools given to customers to help achieve success for your customers.

This article was created as part of the Vistio Knowledge Collective.

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