The Top Ten Customer Annoyances to Avoid

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While eliminating customer annoyances may not double your client base overnight, it will help to secure your customers’ confidence in your abilities as a reliable, efficient service provider.

The following are the ten annoyances most likely to prevent your customers from returning to you for future business.

Avoid them like the plague.

Number Ten: The Escalation Stonewall

Put simply, if a customer requests to speak to a manager, you can safely assume that they have good reason to do so. Is it really necessary for the customer to describe the issue at hand to their first point of contact when the likelihood is that they will end up repeating themselves when they are finally put through to a supervisor?

Customers need the security of knowing that if they need extra help, it is readily available. Fail to escalate a call and you risk alienating your customers and dampening their confidence in your company.

Whether it be because the supervisor is already on a call or “in a meeting”, customers do not want to be told that there are no managers available. With this in mind, try coordinating your teams with an escalation rota so that at least one supervisor is available at any given time.

It’s also a good idea to ensure that your teams include a senior agent who is experienced and well-spoken enough to resolve escalations when the supervisors are genuinely snowed under. If your budgets are already stretched, try temp-hiring a senior agent for the peak season to help ease the strain on your workflow.

Number Nine: The Lengthy IVR

Sure, IVRs can help buy you some time when your workforce is maxed out, but is it really worth irritating your customer with needless information and a patronisingly slow voice whilst you allocate resources?

If your IVR is used to distribute calls to different departments, keep your recordings concise and articulate. How many times have you called a company knowing full well which department you need to reach, only to end up grinding your teeth through several minutes of meaningless blurb while the IVR decides whether to tell you which button to press?

Worse still, how would you like to spend five to ten minutes battling through an IVR, only to be abruptly disconnected with the news that all operators are currently busy? If all of your agents are occupied, have the consideration to tell your client so at the beginning of the call.

Gluttons for punishment should try contacting HMRC at the beginning of a new tax year. The prosecution rests.

Number Eight: Excessive Security

Make no mistake: the Data Protection Act is not to be sniffed at. The security of your customers’ personal details should be of pivotal importance to your corporation.

But there is a thin line between making sure the caller is who they claim to be and bombarding them with excessive and intrusive security questions. From the customer’s point of view, there are few less pleasant ways to begin a call than reeling off his or her address, date of birth, security number, telephone number, password, mother’s maiden name and so on, all before proceeding to the point of the call.

Unless your contact centre represents a bank or building society, the simple trio of name, address and account number should suffice – so long as you’ve taken reasonable steps to identify the caller, you’re in the clear. So spare your customer (and call-time average) the grief, and stick to the bare essentials.

Number Seven: Checkout Trouble

Never assume that, just because you’ve guided your customer through to the checkout stage of affairs, the sale is done and dusted. It is, in fact, not uncommon to lose customers during the final moments of a call.

To avoid potential aggravation, ensure that your script is cleverly composed so that each question leads naturally on to the next. The purchase summary should be followed by a final price, then on to the payment details and, finally, the delivery address – with minimal pauses or hold times in between. A final approval from the customer, and the deal is sealed.

Your script should establish that the customer’s payment card is registered to the address you have on file before the authorisation stage. Otherwise, the transaction may fail.

Remember, most customers do not relish pulling out their wallet, so always make an effort to respectfully buoy your client’s spirits with reassurance.

Number Six: Technical Problems

Technical hiccups are to contact centres as violent gales are to fragile tankers in the mid Atlantic. You may not know just when they might sweep in, but you can prepare.

Ensure that your agents are equipped with the soft skills required to deal with any unexpected issues that might arise.

Should the agent’s software freeze, the customer should be offered apologies for the inconvenience caused, and gratitude for his or her patience.

If it becomes absolutely necessary to place the customer on hold, make sure that he or she is waiting for no longer than two minutes. Any longer than this and the customer should be offered a call back at a time of his or her choosing; this not only minimises the customer’s stress, but also the strain on your inbound dialler. And whatever you do, do not ask the customer to call back again later; how would you feel?

Number Five: The Irrelevant Up-sell

Whilst up-selling can score the double whammy of generating considerable revenue and adding value to your customer’s order, many firms make the mistake of attaching irrelevant offers to their sales process. It’s one thing to put forward a discounted insurance package as an addition to a brand-new laptop, or a pair of shoes to a new suit, it’s quite another to offer a cut-price umbrella in conjunction with your customer’s Mediterranean holiday deal.

Implement processes that prevent the customer from being offered the same up-sell too often, and allow your agents the discretion to evaluate the customer’s mood and put off the up-sell for another time if they sense that the client is in a hurry or not in the greatest of moods. What’s more, remember that soft-sell tactics are considerably more effective than hard. Persist too much and the customer may decide not to return to you for future business, or even cancel their current order in exasperated retaliation.

Number Four: Agent Phrases

There are a handful of commonly used expressions that your agents should avoid using at all costs. Regardless of the actual tone used, overused phrases like “If I were you” and “All you need to do is…”, not to mention clichéd informalities like “At the end of the day”, serve only to irritate customers.

Encourage your staff to adhere to an inoffensive, formal vocabulary, and promote the idea of self and collective responsibility in your training workshops. You’ll find that your agents’ attitudes will soon change and, as a result, their irritating phrases will gradually fade, to be replaced by the respectful language your customers crave.

Number Three: The Discretionary Void

I once spoke to a customer who, exasperated to tears, had managed to find the number for my London office. She wished to return a large item to my company but, since the parcel’s weight was just below our collection threshold, she had been asked to return the item by Royal Mail on the understanding that her returns cost would be reimbursed. Being disabled, the customer was unable to do this, and yet she had been stonewalled repeatedly with the assurance that a collection could not, would not, be arranged – despite the fact that arranging a collection in this case was considerably cheaper than reimbursing the customer for the returns postage she would incur.

True, your policies are there for a reason, but there are times when your procedures will benefit neither your customer nor your company. It is possible to be smart and flexible at the same time. No one likes the idea of a hard-nosed, uncompromising corporation, so entrust your agents with the ability to make discretionary judgement calls, and watch your customers’ confidence in you soar.

Number Two: The Illiterate Offshore Call Centre

Anybody who has flown to Bangalore with a view to training an offshore contact centre will likely be familiar with the disconcerting terms and phrases they’re apt to use. From “We will surely do the needful” to “We will do that one for you”, the expressions used are enough to exacerbate even the most minor complaints and queries.

But when the language barrier forces your agents and customers to repeat themselves constantly throughout their conversation, things really must change.

Invest in regular elocution and cultural education courses for your offshore teams, and monitor their calls frequently, jumping in with hands-on guidance whenever the need arises; this type of short-term investment will yield long-term results, immeasurably improving the quality of service your outsourced centre provides.

And Number One: Interruption

Interrupting a client, no matter how long they have been speaking for, is not only disrespectful, it is downright rude. Your agents should allow the caller to vent their frustrations entirely, before jumping in with the solution – regardless of how many times the customer has repeated his or herself. The slight increase in your average call-time will be more than compensated for by the surge in your company’s reputation as a caring, patient and customer-friendly organisation.

George Dixon

George Dixon

Do note, however, that verbal nods do not count as interruption; in fact, they are essential to the process of building rapport. Be mindful to encourage your staff to use a variety of different nods, though- “Yes”, “I agree”, “Ah”, and “OK” are as inoffensive as they come.

The major problem with telephone annoyances is that, invariably, they compound like a rolling snowball. The more annoyed a customer is made, the less likely they are to become a long-term client.

Ultimately, the best way to identify your company’s annoying habits is through the customers themselves. Carry out research, speak to your customers and obtain feedback. Only then will you be in a position to fix the issues at hand.

George Dixon is a regular contributor to Call Centre Helper.

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Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 5th Oct 2011 - Last modified: 14th Mar 2022
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  • Wonderful article! I recently wrote something very similar, but appreciated that you had some additional insight in some of the areas. I find that the foreign call centers are the most annoying problem. Thanks for mentioning that.

    Sandra McGarry 5 Oct at 20:27
  • I agree George! My most hated phrases is ‘bear with me’ argh! If I’m the customer why should I bear with you? It should be the other way round!

    Carolyn Blunt 6 Oct at 11:16
  • There’s an email and Facebook post doing the rounds at the moment that saya, in essence, that if a customer is unhappy with being connected to a call centre abroad and insists on speaking to a representative based in the UK then, by law, the call MUST be transferred back to this country. It’s stressed that this isn’t supposed to be a discriminatory matter but more to do with helping to ‘keep jobs in the UK’. It sounds a bit odd but is it true?

    Allan Smith 10 Oct at 13:51
  • There’s an email and Facebook post doing the rounds at the moment that says, in essence, that if a customer is unhappy with being connected to a call centre abroad and insists on speaking to a representative based in the UK then, by law, the call MUST be transferred back to this country. It’s stressed that this isn’t supposed to be a discriminatory matter but more to do with helping to ‘keep jobs in the UK’. It sounds a bit odd but is it true?

    Allan Smith 10 Oct at 13:51
  • As far as I’m aware there is NO validity
    to this at all.

    Urban legend…..



    DaveA 10 Oct at 14:05
  • Thought that might be the case. Thanks for your help.

    Allan Smith 10 Oct at 16:25