C-Suite Lifestyle

5 Universal Customer Frustrations

Brad Cleveland

Apple, the trillion-dollar tech giant, is also a giant in customer service. When my iPhone battery life began to diminish, I found myself on Apple’s online support pages, where I was quickly offered four options: bring the product into a store, send it in for repair (which I could schedule online), start a chat, or set up a call. With a few keyboard clicks, I had a shiny, new “issue ID” and had initiated a call.

On my call, I avoided the phone menu entirely because the automated system knew who I was and why I was calling. I was placed in the appropriate queue with an acceptable five-minute wait time. The rep who answered knew who I was, why I was calling, had my warranty information, and we jumped right into troubleshooting.

Why can’t all companies do this?

The principles that guide effortless customer experiences seem basic. But the truth is, it’s difficult to get customer service basics right, and many organizations don’t. Run-of-the-mill customer service annoyances are still maddeningly common, yet the consequences to businesses are dire. You’ve probably seen these or similar statistics: 88% of customers consider customer service when they contemplate a purchase, and 58% stop doing business with a company after a poor service experience.

Resolving service frustrations is often among the first stops for any organization working to improve their customer experience. Here are five universal frustrations that can point you in the right direction.

  1. Don’t make me wait.
    Waiting in line, waiting for a callback, waiting for a return to be processed, an order to be delivered, or an application to be approved. Customers don’t like waiting. When left to wait too long, they’re more likely to go somewhere else next time (if they can), tell their friends and family, and take it out on the employee who ends up helping them.

    How long is too long? The answer can vary. Benchmarks provide useful data points but don’t reflect your unique customers and the issues they’re trying to resolve. An insurance company may find their customers are less wait-tolerant to file a claim but more wait-tolerant to check on a payment. A medical center may find customers expect the contact center to be open before the day’s first appointment at 5 a.m.

    The good news? This information is available if you’re willing to go to the trouble to get it. Survey customers about wait times. Correlate wait times with customer satisfaction data by customer type and service. Analyze the percentage of customers who abandon with wait times.

    The bottom line: are your customers happy with the wait when they need help? In a customer-centric organization, this matters more than the length of the actual delay.

  2. Make it easy for me to find help.
    Making it easy for customers to find help encompasses the entire customer journey, including customer communications, self-service, interactive voice response (IVR), and digital channels.

    Consider a recent problem you experienced. How easy was it to find the right place to direct your question—a dedicated Twitter profile, a phone number, an email address, a chat link? Was it a channel you prefer? Did you get to the right resource easily, or did you get transferred or moved to another channel? Did you feel confident you were in the right place?

    Making it easy to find help takes thought and design. Those who design communications, phone menus, webpages, and mobile apps need to anticipate when, why, and how customers will contact the organization.

  3. Provide knowledgeable and friendly customer service staff.
    When things go wrong, your customers will turn to your employees for advice, support, and resolution. Customers will form an opinion of the company based on these interactions. That’s why hiring capable employees, training them well, giving them the tools they need, and empowering them to deliver good service is so important.

    It’s easy to obtain customers’ perceptions of your employee helpfulness. Customer satisfaction scores, complaints, and employee observations can help you determine which customer service team members shine, and who needs additional training or coaching. Analysis of feedback and observations may also alert you to the need for improvements in recruiting and hiring, training and coaching, and even goals and metrics to support the service customers want.

  4. Create customer-friendly policies and processes.
    Processes are at the core of customer service. They largely determine how long customers wait, how easy it is to access help, and virtually every other aspect of service and support. Even the most dedicated customer service team members will be crippled when they have to convey inconvenient policies or work within cumbersome processes.

    Instead, you want customers to feel that getting to a positive resolution is easy and that you’re there to support them. Gathering data on how well your processes are performing can take some digging, however. You may need to trace the customer over time, across multiple channels, and through various departmental touchpoints. In most cases, customer feedback and employee input will provide much of the information you need.

  5. Know who I am.
    Consumers expect a seamless experience when they move from one service channel to another—for example, when opening a ticket in an online portal and then calling about it. When customers call multiple times about a single issue, they expect the representative to know who they are and what’s happened so far.

    This means you need to create systems and methods to proactively identify customers. This will enable you to access their history and track their journey through multiple contacts, touchpoints, and channels. Ultimately, you want your customer to hear, “Hi, Mr. Jones, I see you have an application started in our system. Are you calling about that today?”

Studies reveal these five frustrations are common. But are they your customer frustrations? And to what degree? I encourage you to use this list as a starting point to fuel your own customer service pain point audit.

One more recommendation: don’t get discouraged as you get the basics in order. To use a sports metaphor, these five areas are “blocking and tackling” (the fundamentals). But blocking and tackling isn’t easy. Professional sports players hone these skills, over and over.

Similarly, customer service is an ongoing pursuit. Don’t strive for perfection. But do keep working on it.


Written by Brad Cleveland.

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Brad Cleveland
Brad Cleveland is one of the world’s foremost experts in customer strategy and management. A sought-after consultant and speaker, he has worked in 45 states and over 60 countries for today’s customer experience trailblazers, including American Express, Apple, USAA, Google, and others. His new book is Leading the Customer Experience: How to Chart a Course and Deliver Outstanding Results.


Brad Cleveland is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.