Microsoft’s annual U.S. State of Multichannel Customer Service Report is filled with helpful insights about customer expectations for service and engagement, and it confirms something most of us already know: A full 98 percent of U.S. consumers say that customer service is very important or somewhat important in their choice of, or loyalty to, a brand.

There will always be challenges in achieving the highest level of customer service, though. Some of those issues were brought to light in the report, which asked consumers to name what they consider to be the most frustrating aspects of a customer service experience. Let’s take a look at the top three customer frustrations and consider how they might be addressed in any one of our contact centers. Who knows—maybe next year we can bump these off the list entirely (or at least move them to the bottom of the list!).

  1. Being passed between agents was cited by 22 percent of respondents as a frustration, topping the list as a whole. Interactive voice response (IVR) systems can go a long way toward resolving this frustration. While IVR is already widely in use in contact centers, it’s not always used to its full potential. IVR is great for automating simple, repetitive tasks, but it can also direct calls to specific individuals who are most qualified to help. Assignments are made based on selections chosen by the callers as they progress through the system. But don’t stop there—take customer surveys to get actionable feedback to improve your IVR. Continuous review and redesign of the system will ensure that customers reach the right party every time, with no bouncing around. If a Communicator is forced to transfer a call, be sure you have the technology available to pass customer information from one employee’s screen to the next.
  2. Having to contact a brand or organization multiple times for the same issue was cited by 21 percent of respondents as the second-greatest frustration. Before you fix anything else, be sure your Communicators aren’t being incentivized to wrap up calls quickly. If your performance metrics emphasize average handle time, you may be unwittingly cutting off calls before they come to a full resolution. Rather than get rid of the metric altogether, combine it with other metrics that focus on customer satisfaction. Some businesses are making a concerted effort to resolve problems on the first call by training Communicators to dig deep for answers—putting customers on hold while they contact other parties in an effort to find an answer. Still other businesses are providing Communicators with a robust knowledge base to serve as an information resource, which could be useful for solving a host of problems.
  3. IVR automation/not being able to reach a live person was cited by 18 percent of consumers as a major frustration. IVR is often cited as a customer pain point, but again, a more thoughtful implementation delivers better results. Some IVR systems don’t offer customers a way out, so make sure yours does. To keep the use of this “exit strategy” to a minimum, simplify your menu options. Providing four or five options is considered optimal, and prioritize them so the most commonly selected ones are stated first. Only include essential information, and incorporate a callback feature to prevent too-long holding times. Very often IVR is the beginning of the customer service journey, so it should be considered as important as any other channel in the contact center. If you dedicate the appropriate funds, time and effort into getting it right, you’ll reap the benefits in happier—and less frustrated—customers.

Click here for a brief summary of customer expectations around the globe as presented in the Microsoft report.