The fixable problem of terrible customer service

February 17, 2023, 11:56 AM UTC
Customer service agents are often too constrained by rigid company policies to creatively fix your problem.
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I drove the monorail at Walt Disney World about a decade ago—and it was one of the hardest and most fun jobs I’ve ever had. It was also a master class on how to provide exceptional customer service.

Every Walt Disney World employee’s top priority was taking the customer’s experience to the next level. For me, sometimes that meant identifying a kid who looked especially tired and letting them ride in the front of the monorail so they could feel like a pilot. Other times, especially during long waits, I’d sing songs or play games with our guests to keep the mood light.

No matter what, each Disney employee approached customer interactions with empathy and applied their problem-solving skills to make the park truly feel like “the happiest place on Earth.”

I brought this mentality with me when I founded ClickUp, which is why we made our number-one core value to deliver the best customer experience possible.

This means that while we have guidelines and processes, as all companies do, we allow any customer-facing employee to break the rules at their own discretion. Our thinking is that bad customer service usually isn’t the fault of the agent, but rather the result of rigid policies that don’t allow for thoughtfulness or flexibility.

Why rigid customer service policies fail

Companies often put in place policies that limit the type of support they’re able to provide, and even if a customer makes a reasonable request (like a refund for an order that’s going to be late), company policy limits how the support agent can respond. This is especially problematic in industries where few organizations hold a lot of power. How many times have you had an issue with an airline and had a tough time getting it resolved? I’m guessing quite a few.

This can be a compounding issue. The more rules a company places on customer service representatives, the less motivated those employees are, resulting in worse support outcomes, including basic interactions, outside of issues. Research indicates that 89% of companies that provide “significantly above-average” customer service report higher revenue growth than their competitors. Another study showed that increasing customer retention rates by only 5% can cause profits to increase by up to 95%.

How to build a confident customer support team

Having a knowledgeable, friendly customer service team has never been more important. Many clients still seek live-agent support, and the person they speak to can make or break their experience. 

It’s important to keep customer service representatives happy–and nothing boosts morale like transparency and a sense of control. Clarify what the priorities are for your support representatives–and then allow them to do their jobs.

In addition to raising the bar for success, affording this type of agency to your employees can also boost retention. Research states that workers who understand exactly what’s expected of them are almost four times as likely to say they plan to stay at a company for at least two years and about seven times as likely to say they rarely think about looking for a new job. They’re also more likely to be authentic, effective advocates for your brand.

Why it’s important to prioritize impact

Eliminating strict policies can lead to more spending if your customer service representatives are permitted to offer discounts and refunds. This matters, but not as much as it may seem.

After all, churn is costly. One study showed that 67% of customer churn could be avoided if a customer’s problems were immediately resolved. Other research states that customers who had a good experience with a support representative were more than five times as likely to repurchase from that company, more than seven times as likely to forgive future mistakes, and about nine times as likely to try that company’s new offerings.

Companies should try to raise the bar. The long-term advantages of making a customer happy can far outweigh small losses here or there.

How technology can fail us

A lot has changed since my days at Disney. If you go to theme parks today, you’ll notice that mobile apps have taken over. They’re for virtually everything–admission passes, ride reservations, food purchases, and more. This just doesn’t make sense, especially if you consider who the customers are: a very diverse group, many of whom aren’t technically savvy. And it’s really unfair to the employees, who have no control over how well the mobile app works and are unable to help if things go haywire.

During a recent trip I took to a theme park, I noticed that many visitors were frustrated with the mobile app experience–and the employees were struggling too. I wondered if the business leaders knew how problematic this situation had become. Why weren’t they more focused on creating intuitive user experiences? There needs to be a balance.

It should be a priority for executives to understand how their customers and employees are feeling at all times and make adjustments as needed. It’s too costly not to.

The key to providing a great customer experience? Hire people you trust–and let them lead.

Zeb Evans is the founder and CEO of ClickUp.

The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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