By Paul Selby
Growing up, I had a hamster. Its cage included a hamster wheel. You know the type: a circular wheel held on a stand, and runged or ridged to allow the hamster to grab hold as they ran–and did my hamster love to run on it. Unfortunately, this was often in the middle of the night. (Which may have led to my decision to only ever have the one hamster.) While this was great exercise for the hamster, it never really got anywhere: just endless circles in place.
Society picked up on that. The term “hamster wheel” found it’s way into popular culture, defined as:
Any situation that seems to be endlessly without goal or achievement.
At times, addressing problems in customer service can seem a lot like being stuck on a hamster wheel. Customers call, email, or chat with agents about the same problems, day after day, with no end in sight. In the end, no progress is made, and it all begins again the next day.
How the wheel happens
Though perhaps natural for the hamster, we know customer service shouldn’t be a repeated cycle that never ends with no progress. This happens because the root cause–the underlying source of the problem that forced the customer to call, email, or chat–continues to exist after customer service provides a workaround.
That issue is typically as a result of an error, omission, or process that occurred somewhere outside customer service. Perhaps it’s a widespread billing issue caused by an error in finance. It might be confusing directions in the manual written by the documentation team. Or maybe incorrect order tracking information is being automatically emailed to customers by the shipping department.
In any one of those scenarios, it would be very easy for the customer service policy to be to treat issues without looking for that root cause. Customer service agents would address them–issue a credit, provide instructions, or look up a tracking number–and move on to the next customer, ignoring the point that a larger issue actually exists.
It spins and spins…
The first time agents respond to these scenarios, it might appear to them to be an isolated incident. Lacking proper case tracking, internal collaboration, and trend analysis, indicators of the issues being widespread would be missed and a proper triage and diagnosis would not occur. As a result, customer service agents are forced to respond to these same issues.
This over-and-over has a financial cost to the company. Agents are paid to address the same issue. Costs are also associated with service delivery, such as the telephone, email, and chat communications channels.
There’s an employee cost to consider, as well. Customer service agents can easily become bored or frustrated when they are forced to address the same issues day-after-day (or run on the hamster wheel). That sentiment might manifest itself in a poor attitude and tone as they serve customers. Ultimately, it could lead to departure, resulting in the loss of knowledge and …read more
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