The Dystopian Future of Customer Service Ratings

The ride sharing company Uber has just announced it will start allowing customers to rate their driver mid-trip.

This could be a very positive development. It's often during the ride where passengers have a convenient moment to give a rating, share a comment, or even tip the driver. 

Passengers are typically on the go when they arrive at their destination, so stopping to give any sort of feedback via the app could be seen as an inconvenience.

There's another side to this story.

The never-ending quest for ratings feels like a slippery slope that leads us to a dystopian future imagined in this episode of Black Mirror, where we rate every interaction with every other person.

It feels a bit dehumanizing. Is this a glimpse at our future? 


Socially Awkward Rating Systems

I must admit, this bell gave me pause.

 Sign asking supermarket customers to ring a bell if they were highly satisfied with their service.

My service was satisfactory.

There's nothing wrong with that, especially when you are buying a few items in a grocery store. We don't need a life-changing experience with every interaction.

So ringing the bell would feel like a lie. It would also feel incredibly awkward since ringing the bell would inevitably draw attention to me and the cashier.

On the other hand, I couldn't help but wonder if I was subtly insulting the cashier by not ringing the bell. She probably works hard every single day and I can't literally lift a finger to *ding* her some low-level praise?

Rating an Uber driver mid-ride comes with a similar level of social awkwardness.

  • Should you rate your driver while in their presence?
  • What if your feedback is less than stellar?
  • Should you share feedback with your driver or just rate them?


The Impact of Personal Ratings

The rating you give your Uber driver is personal since it's tied directly to them. A form of personal ratings are already underway in China.

Called a "citizen score," this system is currently in a pilot phase before it's rolled out to the entire country in 2020. A person's score could impact their ability to get a loan, rent a car, or even entitle someone to faster check-in at a hotel. 

Two elements of the citizen score are the person's behavior, including their personal spending habits, and the person's social connections. That means a friend using social media to rant about extreme political views could impact your own credit rating.

(If this happened in the US, we'd all have at least one friend we'd "unfriend" as a result.)

Back to Uber, there's an awkward social contract knowing that your rating directly impacts your driver's job. This BuzzFeed article has several excellent examples from Uber, Lyft, and other services.

Many drivers are outright coaching their customers on what rating to give, which is a form of survey begging.

Uber and Lyft drivers also get to rate passengers. A passenger's rating can impact how likely they are to have a ride request accepted. This can be especially important during busy times.

There are two interesting caveats:

  • Both Uber and Lyft request 5 out of 5 stars as the default rating for okay service.
  • Studies show overall ratings are higher when customers are rated, too.


What Future Will We See?

The change to Uber's rating system is relatively small and could be positive.

My worry is how this change will gently nudge customers away from the human-to-human interactions that are the core of great customer service. 

Customer-centric companies should prioritize humanity over data.

Humanity encourages interactions between people. This includes the positive stuff, such as "you did a great job, thank you!" It also includes letting someone know when things aren't going so well. 

Five Reasons Why You Should Evaluate Your Training Programs

There's one question I always ask project sponsors who request training. It's a bit of a show stopper because 90 percent of the time my client hasn't thought of the answer.

How will we evaluate the success of this program?

A good answer can drive results. For instance, let's say you want to train employees to better handle customer complaints. 

There are a whole host of questions you would need to ask before doing the training if you wanted to evaluate it:

  • What are customers complaining about?
  • What is a successful complaint resolution?
  • What are employees doing now?
  • What do we want employees to be doing instead?
  • What other factors besides training might influence complaint handling?

These questions can move you from generic training to a targeted intervention that actually reduces complaints and keeps customers happy.

Getting better results is just one reason why you should evaluate your training program. Here are five more.

 Two professionals analyzing the results of a training evaluation report.

Why You Should Evaluate Training

Reason #1: Learn whether it works. Training is not always effective. One company spent tens of thousands of dollars on leadership training. Participants gave the course high ratings on post-training surveys and some even described it as "life changing." Yet a closer analysis revealed participants were not actually becoming better leaders as a result of the training. Funding for the program was eventually cut because there were no results to justify the cost.

Reason #2: Develop credibility. Customer service representatives were skeptical about a procedure they were being trained to use. They weren't convinced it would work until the trainer shared evaluation data from a pilot class that showed their colleagues had dramatically improved results using the new procedure. This gave the training greater credibility and the participants agreed to try using the new process.

Reason #3: Improve your programs. A client recently hired me to develop a customized customer service training program. We did a pilot session and it received excellent reviews, but our evaluation also identified a number of places where the program could be improved. The result was a much better program once it was introduced to all of my client's employees.

Reason #4: Meet sponsor expectations. The CEO of a small company asked me to conduct training to help customer service reps convert more inquiries into sales. The current conversion rate was 33 percent and the CEO felt employees could achieve 35 percent after the training. A post-training evaluation revealed the conversion rate rose to 45 percent, which made the CEO extremely happy!

Reason #5 Get more funding. A client hired me to conduct customer service training with her staff. They had received numerous complaints and she knew they needed to improve. We were able to demonstrate the training helped significantly reduce complaints and dramatically improve service levels, which allowed my client to get her boss to approve funding for additional training programs.


Learn More

Here's a short video that explains more about the importance of evaluating training.

Evaluating training programs requires more than just a short survey at the end of the class. Trainers sometimes call those "smile sheets" because they are really a customer satisfaction survey and not a robust evaluation tool.

The good news is evaluating training does not have to be overly difficult.

  1. Set clear training goals
  2. Create a measurement plan before training
  3. Execute your plan after training

Are you attending ICMI's Contact Center Expo & Conference next week? If so, you can learn more about evaluating training at my session on Tuesday, May 22 at 2pm.

The Best Way To Prevent Customers From Tweeting Complaints

Last March, Shannon Watts tweeted a complaint about United Airlines.

Watts had observed what she believed to be poor treatment from a United gate agent towards several other passengers and she took to Twitter to voice her displeasure.

The tweet went viral and eventually made national headlines.


Never mind that Watts only witnessed only part of the incident and had some of her facts wrong. (This thoughtful post from One Mile at a Time clears that up.) Or that United didn't help itself with its poor initial response.

What's scary is this type of viral complaint can be a PR nightmare. 

So what can companies do to protect themselves? I did a study of customer complaints on Twitter to find out and one very clear answer appeared.

Here's what you need to do to prevent 80 percent of those complaints.

 Customer opening the Twitter app on their iPad.

Study Overview

I did a similar study in 2014 to find out what customers complained about on Twitter. You can find those results here.

Social media use by customers has risen since then, so I decided to replicate the research to see what has changed.

I looked at tweets attached to three common hashtags that contained a complaint:

  • 100 tweets tagged with #badservice
  • 100 tweets tagged with #customerservice
  • 50 tweets tagged with #servicefailure

A couple of notes here:

Only obvious complaints were included. For instance, the #customerservice hashtag also has a lot of job postings and customer service advice articles, so I left those out.

There's also a clear limitation to this study. Not every customer who complains uses a hashtag, or one that is consistently popular. So it is a possibility that my results are a bit skewed.

Finally, for background, a 2017 study from Sprout Social found that 46 percent of people have used social media to complain about a brand. My own study on consumer response time expectations revealed 40 percent of customers use Twitter for customer service.


The Big Result

There's one insight that really jumped out—80 percent of complaints on Twitter were an escalation.

This means the customer previously had contact with the company via a different channel (phone, in-person, email, etc.) and had not received a satisfactory resolution.

This makes it clear that the best way for businesses to prevent these types of complaints is to get it right the first time. Unfortunately, many companies do such a poor job serving other channels, they effectively train customers to use social media.

Here are the top reasons people complain for 2014 and 2018:

 Chart highlighting twitter complaints by category for 2014 compared to 2018.

Number one on the list is waiting for a resolution. These customers experienced some issue with a company and felt it was taking too long to get fixed. This angry tweet could have been prevented if the initial phone complaint had been handled to the customer's satisfaction.

The third most popular reason customers complain on twitter is the customer never received a response to another contact. This customer tweeted about a product issue because she's still waiting for a call. The company probably could have prevented this tweet by (a) fixing the issue or (b) responding to her request for a call.

Many public tweets are a customer's way of venting about a service failure. Quite a few tweets aren't even specific about the issue or what resolution the customer is seeking. 

Take Action!

One thing you can do is trace the social media complaints your company receives. This can apply to Twitter or any other social media channels.

  1. What are customers complaining about most often?
  2. Can you address the root cause?

For example, one company identified a number of complaints were all connected to the same process. They are now fixing that process to help improve customer satisfaction, which in turn should reduce complaints.

There are also a few courses on LinkedIn Learning to help you develop your social media customer service skills.

You'll need a LinkedIn Premium account to watch the full videos. You can get a 30-day trial here or access the training through your account.

Why Channel Switching Is a Good Thing

Channel switching gets a bad rap in customer service.

If you are not familiar with the term, it refers to situations where a customer starts an interaction with a company in one channel and the interaction moves to another channel.

The customer sometimes initiates this. For instance, a customer might email a company with a question and then call a day later when she does not get a response.

At other times, companies cause the channel switch. The classic example happens when a customer tweets at a company and the company replies saying, "Can you email your information to and we'll look into it?"

Both of these examples seem bad, and they are. But there are definitely times when channel switching is terrific. 

 Customer using a smart phone to contact customer service.

A Good Channel Switching Example

I've become a fan of the ride sharing app, Lyft. 

Using Lyft requires a lot of channel switching, though I'd argue it enhances the experience. Here's an example from a recent business trip where I used Lyft to get from a client's office to the airport:

  1. App: I booked a ride on Lyft using the app and then tracked my driver.
  2. Text: Lyft texted to inform me my driver, Benjamin, was near.
  3. In-Person: This is the ride itself. Keep in mind in-person is a channel. 
  4. App: I used the app to give Benjamin a rating and a tip after I arrived.

This one experience used three channels (app, text, and in-person) and switched channels three times. What made it terrific was every channel switch was seamless and felt natural. 

The truth is we often seamlessly switch channels when interacting with companies. 

You might use OpenTable to book a restaurant reservation and then visit the restaurant in-person to dine. Or you might call a customer service department for assistance and the rep sends you a helpful follow-up email.

You probably don't give channel switching a second thought when it works well. 


Where Channel Switching Goes Wrong

Companies like Lyft succeed because they make channel switching seamless and natural. Many companies do not.

I recently decided to close an account with a local credit union. You would have thought I was requesting the most unusual transaction in history. Here's that experience:

  1. Website: searched for instructions or necessary forms (couldn't find any).
  2. Phone: Called for assistance. Was told to visit a branch.
  3. In-Person: Visited the branch to close the account. Was told it would take a day to process.
  4. Phone: Employee from branch made a follow-up call to verify account closed.

Like my Lyft experience, this credit union experience featured three channels (website, phone, and in-person) and three channel switches.

It was not a good experience because the channel switches felt forced and unnatural. It still doesn't make sense why I couldn't close my account online, given I could do just about everything else on the credit union's website.

The one positive part of the experience was the branch employee who made a follow-up call. She was technically switching channels, but that part was fine because it felt like a continuation of the conversation.

And that's the key. Good channel switching is seamless and natural. Bad channel switching just feels like the company doesn't have its act together.


Master the Moments of Truth

Jeannie Walters is the CEO of 360Connext. She's an expert in identifying and optimizing key moments in a customer's journey.

Walters suggests companies should think about a customer's real life rather than design touch points around a process. She gives a great example from retail clothing stores.

"Nordstrom and other retailers determined how customers like to order clothes online, but wanted the choice to return or exchange them at a store. Once these retailers saw the need for seamless channel switching, they were able to make returning via any channel easier. Now customers have the choice of returning by sending back with a pre-paid label, going to a store, or even calling a special phone line."

You can do something similar. 

  • Experience your products or service like a customer would.
  • Contact your customer service department, just like a customer might. 
  • Talk to real customers and gather their feedback.

The goal is to find pinch points that harm the experience and find a way to make them seamless and natural for your customers.

ACSI Report Reveals Three Focus Areas for Retailers

There's good and bad news for retail customer service.

In February, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) released its 2017 retail report that tracks customer service trends in several retail industries such as department stores, supermarkets, and health and personal care stores.

The good news is some retailers are providing excellent customer service. Publix, a company I profiled in The Service Culture Handbook, was the highest rated retailer overall.

The bad news is some major retailers are struggling with customer service, particularly in the specialty retail and department store categories.

Here's an analysis of what's driving those ratings along with a sample competitive analysis of three popular drug stores: Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS.

 Exterior view of a CVS drugstore.

Driver #1: Location

I once asked the CEO of a credit union I was working with to describe the one thing he wanted to do to improve service. Without hesitation, he replied, "Add more locations."

Convenient locations are incredibly important to retail. Customers need to be able to visit your location with minimal effort. Convenience also includes how easy the store is to get in and out of, such as parking or accessible entrances.

In my drugstore comparison, I selected three competing drug stores that are all located with a half mile of each other in San Diego. 

Rite Aid: This store was situated in a large parking lot with plenty of spaces. The parking lot had multiple entrances from three streets.

Walgreens: Like Rite Aid, this location was easily accessible from a parking lot that had multiple entrances from two streets. There was plenty of parking, but it was a little less convenient due to one-way routing around multiple medians.

CVS: Easily accessible with a large parking lot and plenty of spaces. The parking lot has multiple entrances from two streets.

The locations for all three stores were virtually identical, so it's probably a tie in this case.


Driver #2: Cleanliness and Layout

The customer service vision at Publix is, "Where shopping is a pleasure." Visit a Publix supermarket and you can see the stores have been designed with this vision in mind. 

They stores clean and neatly organized. Aisles are wider than a typical supermarket, making it easier for shoppers to pass each other with loaded carts. There are even helpful signs in the produce section that provide advice on selecting and storing various fruits and vegetables.

In my drugstore comparison, I decided to look for the same list of toiletries: deodorant, suntan lotion, hair gel, and a travel toothbrush. This time, my experience was different from store to store.

Rite Aid was modern-looking and well-laid out with excellent signage. The different colored flooring created a neater look and the visual contrast also seemed to make it easier to find my way around the store. There was also a Thrifty Ice Cream counter, which brought back some fond childhood memories. (Note to self: must go back for a cone.)

There are a few negatives. Some items were piled too high on top of the aisles, which made it difficult to see parts of the store. And the deodorant was oddly locked in a case, which meant buying some required assistance from an associate. (More on that in a moment.)

 Inside a Rite Aid drugstore.

Walgreens was clean, though the white linoleum floors looked out-of-date compared to the Rite Aid.

 Inside a Walgreens drugstore

One odd piece was the signage did not match the product selection in several places, which made it more difficult to find what I was looking for. The men's hair care section was on a completely different aisle.

 Men's hair care sign hung over the shaving section.

CVS had the largest store of the three. Despite it's size, an open layout and helpful signage made it easy to navigate throughout the store. One small tweak that stood out was the omni-directional aisle signs, so they were easy to see from multiple angles.

 Inside a CVS drugstore.

Driver #3: Courtesy and Helpfulness of Staff

Employees can make or break a retail experience. The right people can create a positive customer service experience, which in turn drives sales.

Apple is consistently the retail leader in sales per square foot. One secret to the company's success is employees who help customers confidently select the right products. I've managed to get fast, friendly, and helpful service even on days when the store appeared to be packed with customers.

The flip side of this equation is also true. Having the wrong people, or too many, can cost a business money. This is why retailers should consistently evaluate staffing levels and hours of operation.

There were some contrasts in my drugstore comparison.

Rite Aid had one cashier on duty. I had to wait less than a minute for assistance. She was friendly, albeit transactional. I did not encounter any associates on the sales floor, which was too bad because I was having trouble finding hair gel and would have needed someone to unlock the deodorant. There was also no one who greeted me when I entered the store.

Walgreens also had one cashier on duty. Like Rite Aid, this cashier was friendly and transactional. Also like Rite Aid, I didn't encounter any associates on the sales floor and nobody greeted me as I entered the store.

CVS stood out in three ways. First, the cashier gave me a friendly greeting as I entered the store, despite being busy with customers. Second, an associate greeted me while I was browsing and offered me assistance. And third, I witnessed the single cashier patiently help an elderly customer remove her purchase from the package after she mentioned she had trouble with it. I appreciated this extra kindness, even though it meant I had to wait an extra minute.



CVS is the clear winner in my mini-comparison. 

The locations are all similar, so these companies will compete on other factors. The store design at CVS made it easiest to find the items on my shopping list. Friendly employees made me feel welcome and were also available to help me find something if necessary.

Notice price isn't mentioned in this comparison. The prices at each store were similar and the reality is I could get better prices for everything online without having to drive to a store.

These physical retail stores need to offer something beyond good prices to attract and keep customers. In today's world, a generic, transactional retail experience won't cut it.