Do You Stress Test Your Customer Service Employees?

You might want to consider having your company’s trainers “mystery shop” your customer service employees and then provide training on how to make customer interactions more joyful and less painful.

A couple weeks ago, I became the angry customer I had been reading about. It was the end of the day, and I was tired and irritable. I had gone onto my bank’s Website to automate the sending of checks to my landlord each month. The site asked when I wanted this automated check-sending to “start.” May 1 is a Sunday, so I input that I wanted it to start on May 2. Then a warning popped up that I should allow for at least five days for checks to reach their destination. So if I say I want this service to “start” on May 2, does that mean the check will arrive by that day or just get sent by that day? That was my question.

I called the customer service line, and a woman who spoke stilted English began asking me questions about the bank’s app, which I wasn’t using, as I was using the Website. She didn’t seem capable of giving an answer to my simple question. “You’re driving me crazy!” I shouted at her. I so upset that she then gave me wrong information seemingly just to get me off the phone. I learned it was wrong information because I asked my question of an in-person employee at my local bank branch a couple days later and got the information I had been looking for—a simple response to my simple question. What if I hadn’t been smart enough to realize that the customer service rep I spoke to over the phone had given me wrong information just to get rid of me?

Your customer service reps may pull a similar stunt in desperation to rid themselves of someone they perceive as being difficult. It’s easier to give wrong information and send them on their way than to ask the person to hold and find out from a colleague the right information.

Your customer service employees may need a stress test via a “mystery shopper.” This CRM magazine articleby Leonard Klie gives guidance on how to effectively mystery shop your customer service reps using a professional service. “If you want to find out if your call center is completely free of the long hold times, endless transfers, overly scripted and impersonal conversations, and unempowered employees that usually frustrate customers, you can now hire any one of a growing number of mystery shopping companies to act as your ears on the front lines of customer service,” Klie writes.

Years ago, when I wrote for a magazine about the direct marketing industry, we mystery shopped catalog companies during the holiday season to see whether it was possible to order the companies’ most popular products in time for them to arrive by Christmas. In the process, we also got a taste of customer service wins and misses. One of my colleagues was taking his time figuring out which product he wanted to ask the rep about over the phone, and the rep suggested he hurry up. “We’re wasting time,” she admonished him. Overly sensitive and easily frazzled customer service reps comprise just one category of bad front-line employees. Another category includes impatient and irritable reps. Many of the customers calling are impatient and irritable themselves, like I was, so if the rep also feels that way, it’s a recipe for a nasty encounter. The rep who spoke with my colleague was lucky. He had a sense of humor and only laughed at her before getting off the phone.

Klie’s article spotlights companies that do mystery shopping for other companies, but there is no reason your company’s own trainers can’t mystery shop your employees. We all have questions and annoyances we have been forced to call about for help—whether it’s to the cable company or a retailer you purchased an unsatisfactory product from. You can take those experiences and use them when calling into your customer service line. Ask a question about a product your company sells to gauge how knowledgeable your reps are. Express dissatisfaction with a product in an angry tone to see how much self-control and grace employees have. Make a complex shipping request to see how well the rep is able to navigate your ordering and shipping logistics software.

If your company is in the consumer goods business, it could be worth providing several trainers with a stipend to purchase those very goods. Nothing gives insights about needed customer service training like turning trainers into customers themselves.

Is there a way to train customer service employees to make the experience for your customers more joyful than painful? I hope so! Maybe you can pass some tips on to my bank.