Overcoming customer service challenges: 9 real-world examples & solutions

Overcoming customer service challenges: 9 real-world examples & solutions
By Pedals | On Apr 11, 2022
13 min read

When it comes to customer service, it can feel like there are constant challenges to overcome. In one instance, you're lacking helpful answers when a customer needs them. In another, you're navigating a conversation with an angry customer. It can get really overwhelming, fast.

Luckily, there's no shortage of things customer support reps can do to help avoid (or at least prepare for) these difficult interactions.

Below, we’ve compiled some helpful tips and solutions for your team to keep on deck for those... Stickier situations.

Let's dive in!

In this article:

9 Common customer service challenges

We’ve identified nine of the biggest challenges you may face in customer service. Let’s dive into some of these daily hurdles, and how you can handle each of them with ease!

1. Response times take too long

The amount of time it takes you to respond to a customer can make or break a customer relationship. In fact, according to a report by Arise, over 80% of customers expect a response within 24 hours, and 96% expect a response within 48 hours. So, if your team is taking over three business days to respond to customer queries, you may be teetering on the edge of a poor customer experience.

Fortunately, there are strategies that you can put in place to help speed up your customer response times:

Use customer service software:

Lucky for you, there's a wide range of customer service platforms out there. So, more likely than not, you'll be able to find one that meets your needs.

Using customer service software will help you organize all of your customer interactions. For example, you can organize interactions by:

  • Specific IDs
  • Ticket numbers Feedback tags (i.e. complaint, downgrade, positive feedback, upgrade, etc)

This comes in handy when you need to go back and look up a customer query. For example, if many customers requested a specific feature, you can tag them and reach back out when the new feature is live.

Create email auto-responses:

Another way to boost your customer response times is to use email auto-responses. Though auto-responses probably won’t answer a customer’s question directly, letting them know that someone will be looking at their message soon serves up a better experience for customers. You can be as specific as you want to be in your auto-responses. For example, if you’re currently experiencing a high volume of messages, be honest and say that in the auto-response.

If you're experiencing really busy periods, it's a good idea to learn about managing customer expectations. Here are a few pointers to get you started:

Set up internal reminders:

While speed is a priority for many customer support teams, it's important to be realistic and understand that there will be times when things fall through the cracks. Depending on what type of customer support tool you’re using, you may be able to implement internal reminders that send out an email notification to you and your team if a customer query has gone a certain number of days without being opened or answered. These reminders will serve as a safeguard to ensure that tickets and customer conversations don't fall through the cracks.

Create and use response templates:

Save yourself—and the rest of your team—a ton of time by creating several response templates for common questions and storing them in your message platform for easy copy-and-pasting. For example, you could have templates for FAQs, password resets, return policy information, etc. These canned responses will help reduce your response time to tickets.

2. Customer service can’t answer the customer’s question

Another challenge your team might run into is being unable to answer a customer’s question. This can happen at any time, but it's especially common in companies that:-

  • Are in high-growth mode and adding or updating features on a regular basis
  • Have recently restructured
  • Have a complex or highly-technical product

When you don’t have the answer to a customer’s question, the worst thing you can do is give an incorrect answer. This is actually more common than you may think. According to Kolsky, 44% of consumers say they've gotten the wrong answer from a customer service representative in the past.

So, if you don’t have the answer but also want to respond to the customer in an appropriate time frame, what can you do?

Well, there are a few things you can do to cut the chances of your team drawing a blank on customer questions:

  • In-depth onboarding and continuous training for each customer support team member. This can include product updates and new features, to bigger topics within your industry.
  • An internal digital resource that's updated regularly for customer support staff to turn to for troubleshooting. Knowledge base software is a great solution for this!
  • Foster an internal culture of helping each other so customer support members feel comfortable going to someone in a different department to ask a question.

3. Putting the customer on hold or rerouting calls

According to Zendesk’s Customer Experience Trends Report 2020, nearly 60% of customers feel that long holds and wait times are the most frustrating parts of a service experience. This alone shows why it’s so important to limit call waiting and redirection when a customer calls your company’s help desk. It’s one of the fundamentals of great customer service, and the less time a customer waits, the less frustrated they will be when you speak with them.

Of course, hiring more customer service team members can immediately help with call wait times, but if that isn’t an option, here are some other helpful solutions to help you reduce call waiting and redirection:

  • Optimize your call queue and menu options: An easy way to address long wait times is to review your call queue and menu options. For example, the way your menu is set up may be confusing for some customers, or may direct people to the wrong department altogether. As a result, it takes your customer longer to get to where they need to go.
  • Adjust your customer service team strategy: Reviewing team members’ strengths and weaknesses can be another strategy to help reduce call waiting and redirection. If you have more experienced team members on the phones who are able to answer questions quickly and efficiently, you’ll reduce call times. 
  • Keep an eye on your contact center metrics: If you don’t already, you may want to look into a call center software that tracks core metrics, and then review those on a regular basis. Being able to track things like average call time and wait time by rep can be insightful, and will help identify where you can make changes. Learn more about using customer support data to help boost your team’s success.

Test and compare customer support software before you buy

4. Poor verbal communication skills

The foundation of every customer interaction is good communication. Meaning, poor communication skills can cause serious problems when it comes to retaining or bringing in new customers. 

A report by Microsoft found that 30% of people say the most important aspect of customer service is speaking with a knowledgeable and friendly agent. Even more, inconsistent communication can damage a brand’s credibility by 56%, as reported by Activeprospect. So, you’ll want to be sure each of your customer support team members has top-notch communication skills, but also are on the same page when it comes to how your brand wants to communicate with customers. 

Here are a few ways you and your team can improve your verbal communication:

Incorporate friendly, all-purpose customer service phrases into your vocabulary, such as:

  • “Nice to meet you!”
  • “It’s my pleasure!”
  • “Great question. Let me find out for you.”
  • “Thank you for being our customer!”

Learn the art of empathy, especially when you encounter an unhappy customer. Try using phrases like:

  • “I understand how frustrating that must be.”
  • “I appreciate you bringing this to our attention.”
  • “Your business is very important to us.”
  • “I’d love to get a better understanding of the problem you’re dealing with.”

Sometimes, you may not have the answer for the customer you’re talking to. Redirecting them in a seamless, friendly manner will make for a better customer service experience. You can try out phrases like: 

  • “I’m looping in (name/role) to help address this issue.”
  • “I’d like to introduce you to (blank). You’re in great hands!”
  • “We’re going to take a closer look at this issue. Is (blank) the best way to get in touch?”

5. Customers are angry or only want to speak to a supervisor

An issue you may run into more often than not is when a customer is angry, or only wants to speak to a supervisor. These situations can be especially tricky, because oftentimes customer service representatives are the best equipped to handle the situation—and have the tools to do so. 

What’s worse is that you’ll need to convince the customer of this and turn the entire situation around in order to ensure you don’t lose them. A recent Forbes survey found that 96% of customers say that they will stop doing business with a company if they receive bad service.

In order to turn a bad situation into a pleasant one, you’ll have to employ some de-escalation techniques. Here are some practical ideas you and your team members can use to de-escalate and address situations like this:

  • Remain calm: It’s vital to not take what an angry customer is saying personally. In these situations, as a customer service professional, it’s your job to stay level-headed.
  • Listen: Let the customer explain their situation in detail and really listen to their concerns. Take notes if you need to, and avoid interrupting the customer mid-story.
  • Empathize: Show empathy toward the customer and let them know you understand how frustrating this situation must be. 
  • Clarify: If the customer’s story was long and winding, feel free to clarify certain aspects to ensure you fully understand it. 
  • Apologize: Give the customer a genuine apology, even if the issue they are mad about is not your fault.
  • Propose a solution: If you’re able, propose a solution. Empower other members of your team to do the same if they are in a similar situation. 
  • Diagnose: Once you’ve settled a solution with the customer, analyze what exactly went wrong. It’s not about placing blame on someone within the company — it’s about resolving the issue so it doesn’t happen again.

6. Lacking the tools to efficiently address customer queries

Customer service can be exponentially harder for any company if they aren’t using the right tools. Even if you’re a small team, customer service tools can be vital for success. Over 65% of consumers have higher expectations when it comes to customer service today than they did just three to five years ago, according to Netomi’s State of Customer Service 2021. That means that every company needs to step up their customer experience game with the proper tools.

Customer service tools can help improve your products and/or services, measure the satisfaction of your customers, track data about your customers, and act as a reliable organizational tool that encourages collaboration among your whole team. 

Some tools that may help address gaps in your customer experience include:

  • Customer onboarding platforms like UserGuiding can help streamline the customer onboarding process, freeing up time for support agents.
  • All-in-one customer success platforms like SmartKarrot can address things like customer engagement, onboarding, customer success operations, the overall customer experience, and product adoption.
  • Help desk ticketing systems like Zendesk and Help Scout that enable your team to create, manage, and maintain a list of customer problems.
  • Quality assurance (QA) tools like Klaus can help your customer success team manage customer scorecards, provide reporting and data analysis, assist goal-setting, and allow for peer-to-peer and self-reviews. Learn more about improving your customer support with QA.

Test and compare customer support software before you buy

7. Failure to implement effective crisis management or escalation protocol

As much as any team doesn’t want to think about crises, crisis management is an essential part of any business—it means protection not only for the business itself, but each individual team member. 

The best customer support teams should be prepared to handle the unexpected. Crises could include technology outages, a PR nightmare (think back to Gorilla Glue in 2021), confrontation or violence, or even a natural disaster that could impact anything from your team’s physical location, all the way up to supply chains problems. 

Crisis management should be top-of-mind for all businesses. In fact, a survey by PwC finds that 30% of organizations admit that they didn’t have designated core crisis response teams in place when COVID-19 struck.

If you want to avoid getting caught in that 30%, here are some ways your team can achieve effective crisis management:

  • Designate a core crisis management team and hold meetings on a regular basis.
  • Establish a company-wide definition of a “crisis.”
  • Create a crisis management document that is accessible to any team member at any time.
  • For your customer service team specifically, utilize your digital tools to draft proper communications—or templates—you can use if a crisis were to occur.
  • Collaborate with other internal teams to use and analyze data to adapt and improve crisis communications.

8. Customer expectations can’t be satisfied due to company policy

The saying “the customer is always right” is flawed. It can become tough when the customers’ expectations conflict with company policies. Internal policies are established for good reasons, so being able to explain that to your customer and deftly handle unrealistic expectations or requests is vital. Many times these unrealistic expectations from customers revolve around a discount or refund you're unable to provide.

Below are some solutions for handling unrealistic expectations or requests around discounts or refunds:

  • As a company, make sure your policies are clear and customer-centric in the first place. Think about how each company-wide policy impacts the customers. When the company is rolling out or modifying current policies, advocate to have your team weigh in, since customer support often has the best intel when it comes to what customers want and need.
  • Empower customer service reps to make decisions in the moment that align with common sense and customer satisfaction—even if that means sidestepping an official company policy. If this is happening often, it may mean there is a need to review and modify the policy.
  • Hold ongoing training for customer service reps where they can practice customer service using role play. This type of training can boost team members’ confidence, and help them stay positive and calm when facing an unhappy customer. 

9. Ineffective after-sales support

A large portion of customer support is actually after-sales support, or providing support to a customer after they’ve purchased your product. This could include things like walking them through how to use your product or service, answering questions related to their specific use scenario, and keeping an open dialogue to determine if they’re satisfied with the purchase. So, when after-sales support is ineffective, it can cause customers to be upset and potentially leave your company.

To ensure you and your customer service team members are providing best-in-class after-sales support, keep these things in mind:

  • Send thank-you notes to customers after they’ve purchased to open up a line of communication.
  • Remember small details about customers that are contacting customer service on a regular basis. This will make the customer feel like you’re personally invested in their success with your product or service.
  • If you don’t hear from new customers after purchase, follow up with check-in emails to ensure they’re doing well.
  • Ask for customer feedback and be willing to implement that feedback. 
  • Continue to provide great customer service — especially if a customer inquires about making a return or exchange. 

Customer service challenges give your company the opportunity to learn and grow 

You’ve probably realized now just how many challenges can arise within customer support. But what you can also take away from this article is how much opportunity there is for education and growth within your customer support team. 

If you’re feeling inspired to take on some of these challenges and want to start by identifying new tools your team can implement, give TestBox a try. TestBox can help you sift through thousands of customer service tools and identify which ones could be perfect for your team—dive into TestBox today!

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Pedals is a beloved member of the TestBox team whose entire goal in life is to author amazingly helpful blog posts and to cameo on every piece of TestBox swag.

TestBox empowers you to have a self-serve, customer-led experience so you can buy new software and feel confident that you made the right choice. Currently focused on Customer Support, TestBox allows you to test out Zendesk, Freshdesk, HubSpot, Dixa, and other products side-by-side. It takes a matter of minutes to sign up and take these products for a test drive. Find out more at TestBox.com or follow on LinkedIn.