Don't Let Poor Reading Skills Crush Your Support Queues

It seemed like a simple question.

My wife, Sally, and I want to install a smart thermostat at our vacation rental property to make it easier to control heating costs when we don't have guests. I went to the website for a popular brand and searched for documentation on vacation rentals.

Finding nothing, I started a live chat session. "Can you share documentation on using your product in a vacation rental property?" I asked.

The response was a link to an article about going on vacation. Not quite right. After a few back-and-forth messages the agent agreed to search for something and email me.

The email was a link to articles about setting the thermostat when you go on vacation.

Situations where agents don't apply basic reading comprehension skills are frustrating. It unnecessarily wastes customers' time. In my case, it drove me to a competitor.

Here's a closer look at the problem and a few solutions.


The Comprehension Problem

The NBC app wasn't working on my iPad, so I submitted an online support ticket.

(While I normally hide company names when I share my own negative service experiences, I've provided this feedback to the company multiple times.)


The text from my support ticket is at the bottom with the response at the top. This response had two big misses that show the responder didn't fully read or understand my question. 

First, the response asked me to search for my provider, even though I clearly state my provider in my message. 

Second, the emailer asks for the type of device and OS I'm using, even though that information is clearly identified in the personal data attached to the email. (I removed that portion for privacy.)

**Bonus question to my technical friends** Do you think this response came from a human, a bot, or a human pretending to be a bot?


What Causes These Reading Issues?

Let's set aside an obvious possibility, that the agents hired for these jobs are not screened for appropriate reading skills.

That may be true, yet there are still other possibilities.

One is a focus on productivity, not quality. Look back at the email and you'll see some signs:

  • The ticket is marked at the top of the email as solved. (Makes ticket closing numbers look good.)
  • This is clearly a pre-written template.
  • The sender ignored information I provided.

Another possible root cause is a lack of quality monitoring. Here's a sneak preview from a study that will be released by ICMI in October. The chart shows the percentage of contact centers that monitor various channels for quality.

Source: ICMI

Source: ICMI

This graph shows that most contact centers are monitoring calls while more than half aren't monitoring email or chat. The stat for social media is just sad.

So if an agent exhibits poor reading skills, chances are the boss isn't paying attention. And if the boss isn't paying attention, you can be sure the agent isn't getting any feedback on how to do better. 



An immediate action is to review a sample of written communication from your agents.

I did this exercise as a contact center manager and was shocked at how many emails contained a mistake or weren't as helpful as they could be. 

You may also consider changing your support procedures:

  • Create a customer service vision that focuses on customers, not transactions.
  • Implement quality monitoring for written channels.
  • Incorporate a reading comprehension assessment in your hiring process.

Of course, all agents could use help with some skill development from time to time. Check out online courses from customer service writing expert, Leslie O'Flahavan: