How to prevent 90% of customer care queries

In my 20+ years working in marketing and customer service, I’ve heard it all – customers are stupid, they don’t read our emails, they just call up for a chat. Unless you’re a bank teller on pension day, your customers do not want to contact you.

There are only three reasons a customer is contacting you:

  1. You messed up
  2. You confused them
  3. You didn’t invest in self-service tools

Regardless of the reason, it’s your fault. Start from this point of view and you’ll be better able to empathise with the customer and work out the root cause of why they’ve had to get in touch.

Through better customer experience journey planning, you can eliminate the majority of contacts through personalisation, self-service tools and using good old fashioned simple language.

1. You messed up

It happens

Every business will have outages, service issues and disruptions – unless it’s scheduled maintenance it’s unlikely you’ll be able to predict them. However, through a better understanding of your data and working with your Tech / Operations team, you should be able to get a good enough measure of which customers were impacted.

  • Be honest and transparent: Human error happens, mistakes happen. People are forgiving, be open and transparent. If they feel they are being duped, they’ll lose trust in your brand.
  • Be proactive: Simple proactive messaging or on-site personalisation guiding customers to service updates can prevent contacts and reduce dissatisfaction. Even if you can’t access analytics and target specific customers, pop something like a simple banner or alert on your website to say “Sorry for the disruption to your service”, it is very unlikely someone not impacted will be visiting your website at that particular moment.

Identify the real cost of a mistake

Let’s say a customer didn’t follow the instructions properly, and now wants a replacement.

Do you have unnecessary approval steps, sucking up multiple peoples time or are you empowering your frontline teams to make decisions quickly? Are you making refund or replacement decisions based on the lifetime value of the customer?

Take Uber as an example, they worked out it is better to automatically credit your account with £5 (note, it isn’t a refund) than to have an agent personally involved in the process. It is a much better experience for the customer and much more cost-effective than hiring teams of people to deal with people being charged for a missed pick-up point on a Friday night.

2. You confused me

Too long did not read

During one client customer service audit I was investigating why really basic queries were reaching the care teams. The pre-event email was 6 pages long, and they wondered why key messages weren’t getting through.

Check the length of the copy you are sending in emails, within instructional how-to guides, instructions on your website. Check how it reads on a mobile, if you have to scroll and scroll, your customer will likely scroll straight to the bottom ‘Contact Us’ option.

Timely & bite-sized is better

Years ago, I was involved in a project to understand why people were calling the care team about 2-3 days after they’d received their mobile phone for help setting up their voicemail (remember those days?!). Turns out, people were so excited to receive their phone they threw away all the packaging, including the very clear set-up instructions. The solution, timing the instructions to arrive +1 day after the phone. The reduction in care costs far outweighed the additional postage cost.

Through centralising your data and mapping out customer journeys you can identify common issues and anticipate consumer behaviour. Anticipating their next step and providing relevant information only when they need it will reduce confusion, customer contacts and churn.

Purchase process: Map customer service touchpoints across your entire customer journey.

  • Event clusters: Mapping out the customer journey and overlaying when a customer visits your site, contacts your customer service or churns can lead you to identify trends and related triggers. A better understanding of the events pre and post-contact can help your service team prevent future contacts and improve overall satisfaction.
  • Bite-sized: Break down journeys into steps helps reduce confusion, give your customers bite-sized chunks of information to avoid overwhelming them.
  • Frog hop: With every interaction (an inbound contact or visit to your website) you should be able to anticipate and answer their next question. Providing relevant and timely information will dramatically increase adoption and reduce churn.

Let me google that for you

HBR notes that over half of your customers have likely already been online to resolve their issue before contacting you.

If the information isn’t consistent or easy to understand they’ll just head to the ‘Contact Us’ button.

In an ideal world, your website should be so simple that your customer doesn’t have to consult the FAQs. However, sometimes it is unavoidable, but there aren’t hundreds of “Frequently asked questions”, minimise the number of articles in your Knowlegebase / FAQs to help your customers quickly find what they need.

  • Chip away: Apply the 80/20 rule, most of your customers are likely asking the same questions 10 questions. Identify the top non-account related queries that are customer care team are fielding, and focus your effort on these.
  • Check what’s missing: Check what is being entered into the search box to make sure you’re not missing information. Check your tagging is picking up alternative search terms so your customer is finding the right info (ie Money machine, ATM, Bank Machine, Cash machine, are all alias’ for the same thing).
  • Keep it fresh: If your article hasn’t been updated for ages or there are mistakes (ie referring to an event that happened in the past) customers will lose trust in your information and will end up contacting you ‘just in case’.
  • “Query + Your brand”: The starting point for help is typically google, not your search bar. Check the common queries and see how google is indexing and displaying the search results.

Platform doesn’t matter

I’ve written previously about Platform, Process and People.

If you have something already, changing your platform isn’t going to magically improve your customer service, it is likely the process or people part isn’t working. Check these before investing any time into researching alternatives.

If you don’t have anything (ie you are all sharing a group Outlook or Gmail inbox, you’re all chipping-in to ‘help’, or your FAQs is a single long page of text), it’s time to level up and invest in something like Zendesk (I’m a Zendesk Partner if you want to know more) or Freshdesk.

3. Invest in self-service


I get it, it’s tough convincing the finance team to spend money on some backend thing that no one is going to see. I have had my fair share of struggles getting projects to ‘improve customer satisfaction’ prioritised.

If your customer base/ sales are growing by 10% you have to expect your contact volume to grow by about the same amount – is it better to spend money on acquiring more customer care agents to handle the volume or to fix the problem in the first place?

Measure these things to help build your business case:

  • First Contact Resolution (FCR): This is the number of queries that can be answered in one go. Empowering agents to make decisions, giving them access to tools, training to understand the next step on the customer journey can prevent a second contact/ re-contact.
  • % of new customers contacting you: It is likely the majority of your contacts are coming from newbies, improving this score will dramatically reduce your overall contact volume.
  • % non-account related contacts: These are the avoidable queries, the things that if the user experience (UX) was improved, they’d be able to self serve.

Most of the advice outlined above doesn’t have to cost money as the improvements largely come down to the way you communicate with your customers. With a bit of planning and focus, you can dramatically reduce the volume of contacts and improve customer satisfaction. Start with your top 10 contact reasons, and make a plan to chip away at the root causes.

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