Agents shouldn't have to say

It’s a simple question. Innocuous, really. Asked in all sincerity, and with all the best intentions. But for an increasing percentage of customers, it’s a question that can set a service interaction off on a negative high-effort note from the first word:

“How may I help you?”

How could that possibly be harmful? It’s the question that initiates virtually every live customer interaction, and it has for years.

But that’s the problem.

We all know that over the past decade or so, customer behavior has been changing rapidly. The vast majority of customers don’t begin a service journey by looking up your phone number and calling your live agents—they begin online. Very often they try to resolve an issue or solve a problem by themselves. And as we get more data about online customer behavior changes as a result of the pandemic, we know we will see this expectation of self-sufficiency only continue to grow.

But these changes in digital habits also force you to confront a new reality of interacting with customers in your live channels as well. With the proliferation of self-service functionality, FAQs, support tools like video and diagnostics, user forums and chatbots—most of your customers will have been well into what they perceive as the middle of their resolution journey before they ever speak to or chat with a live agent.

Now can you see how this question—asked innocently and even with the kindest tone—could set a customer off?

Think about it this way: When you’re in the middle of some activity (telling a story, watching a movie, playing a game) and someone else barges in and expects you to start all over so THEY can catch up, how does that make you feel?

Or, if you and your family were in the middle of dessert after a big meal at a restaurant, how would you react if a smiling-faced server came up to your table and started handing out dinner menus and telling you about the “special of the day?” You’d probably look at them like they had a screw loose!

But this is the situation your agents are in every day with an increasing percentage of the customers they serve.

When a customer has to repeat themselves to a service rep who is joining them in the middle of their journey, and they have to start all over to re-explain everything that they’ve already been trying—THAT is the very definition of a high-effort experience.

But it doesn’t have to be. Not anymore.

With the advent of true Digital Customer Service, if a live agent joins a customer in the midst of an interaction, everything the customer has already been doing in a wide variety of channels can be made visible to the agent. When the agent already knows WHO they are engaging with, and WHAT that customer is trying to accomplish, the conversation becomes faster, more efficient and more effortless as a result.

We all know how important it is to “meet the customer where they are.” But that doesn’t only apply to the channel they’re in, it also applies to where they are in the process of getting their issue resolved. Where are they in their “journey?” It’s almost certainly not at the beginning.

You need to deliver a eulogy to “How may I help you today?” 

It had a good run. It served us well for decades. But we—and our customers—live in a very different time today.