The 7 Most Harmful Customer Service Myths Debunked

According to contemporary science , myths were the glue that connected humans and enabled them to cooperate on a larger scale, until they finally dominated the earth.

Myths can be useful, but they can also do harm. Some of them just won’t go away, like believing the earth is flat. Or like those about what customers want and need. They are passed on by your service team members at the water cooler and go on to misguide your whole service operation.

Time to debunk the 7 most persistent and harmful customer service myths.

The customer is always right

This well-meaning motto coined and propagated by retailing pioneers of the 19th and early 20th century still hasn’t lost its appeal. It puts the customer’s satisfaction first, if necessary at the expense of the employee’s. The business grants its customers an advance of trust.

But of course a customer can be wrong. If you side with them anyway, you betray your employees, arguably your business’ most valuable assets.

To make things worse, by viewing the customer as always right, you tell your employees that there will be situations in which they are wrong by default. Depriving them of the right to apply reason is highly demotivating. If they can’t continue the service with their dignity intact, they will eventually provide bad service or move on.

Also, if you treat abusive customers preferentially, you will reinforce their unreasonable behavior. Such customers are no good for business.

There is a takeaway from “the customer is always right,” however. It prevents arguing with the customer about who is right, which is pointless, yet still done all too often.

Instead of arguing about “the truth,” use the powerful rhetorical technique of focusing on the future tense, described in “Thank You for Arguing.” Empathize with the customer in past and present, but switch to the future as soon as possible. This part you can shape together, in a collaborative effort.

The majority of your customers are reasonable. Empower your employees to make judgement calls if the customer doesn’t want an amicable solution. This frees up time to treat fair customers with a high standard of service. Put your people first, so they can put your customers first. Read more about this topic in our post on the hardest customer service scenarios .

AI will replace human(s in) support

There’s no denying that AI will cause major changes to the global labor market . Basically anyone whose tasks are automatable is at risk, such as low-income workers in the manufacturing sector.

Optimists say that automation could give people more time to do pleasant things, granted we find models to make up for the lack of income . But even at the workplace, this could be true. Customer service is a good example for that.

For years, there was the anticipation of chatbots able to converse like humans and therefore, deliver support like humans – only faster, at infinite scale, and for a fraction of the cost.

cartoon of TARS robot

But the skills used in human interactions, including detecting emotions, understanding context and subtext, knowing when to deviate from the handbook, are pretty hard to emulate. No AI will match the power of personal human support anytime soon. So, trust WIRED that the buzz is now officially behind us.

What’s left are some real application for bots in customer service. And they give agents more time to use their full potential:

  • bots that greet visitors, and collect and categorize their data before a conversation or outside of service times
  • bots or conversational FAQs that intercept repetitive, common questions and are more engaging than contact forms

If you want to learn more, read our post on using chatbots in support .

Customers always want to talk to real humans

The enduring and frequent attempts to build chatbots that emulate human conversation skills suggest that people prefer human agents over chatbots.

In fact, we did our own research and found that consumers’ opinions on chatbots in support is much more nuanced than the question of human vs. robot.

Some of our key findings:

  • people prefer instant chatbot support to waiting for a human agent
  • a human agent should always be easily available in case the chatbot doesn’t suffice
  • people perceive chatbots as innovative, not as cheap
  • chatbots are fast and convenient, but they have their limits
  • people trust chatbots with basic requests
  • chatbots should never pretend to be human
  • chatbots should be easy and fun to talk to

Overall, people seem to be open for interacting with chatbots as long as the scope of the conversation and the benefit is clear, and a human is available as a fallback option.

Keep in mind that the need for real human interaction not only depends on the kind of question, but also on the kind of product or service on offer. In some industries trust and personal connections matter more, for example in financial products or insurance.

Best let the customer decide which route they prefer. Make quick answers easily accessible, but also offer personal support right with it.

Customers seek personal connections, not quick solutions

Businesses tend to project onto their customers their own interest in creating a solid (purchase-based) bond. But when they contact customer service, customers don’t seek personal connections. They seek quick solutions and don’t want to be treated like numbers in the process.

Speed is a universal virtue in customer service . Any professional will agree that response time, problem resolution time and first contact resolution ratio are among the most crucial metrics for assessing their service quality .

Service speed interferes with service personalization if you try to build rapport with the customer through non-issue-related niceties. Which is a problem if you only have that one interaction to deliver both.

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The solution may very well be ongoing conversations. If it’s easy for both sides to reach out whenever something relevant comes up, while the context of previous interactions is at each side’s fingertips, the interaction can progressively evolve into a personal connection.

Read our dedicated post ”Service Is About Conversations, Not Tickets” to learn how Userlike enables you to unify efficiency and personalization.

You need to exceed customer expectations

This myth sits on one end of the spectrum of opinions about what customers actually expect from companies. It states that in order to satisfy customers, you need to exceed their expectations and wow them by going above and beyond every time.

On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find those who argue that you should instead focus on reducing the effort it takes customers to have their issue solved. The main argument of researchers on the topic : delighting only leads to marginally higher customer loyalty than meeting needs, yet its costs are many times higher.

Graph showing relation of customer satisfaction vs. service performance and costs.

Another one of their key findings is that customers punish bad service more than they reward dazzling support. This clearly suggests that resources should be aimed at delivering on the very basics in customer service, on a regular, stable basis.

Removing obstacles for the customers is a much more efficient strategy for preventing churn and satisfying them at scale. Some tips for reducing effort:

Read our post on improving customer satisfaction to learn more.

Jargon makes you legitimate and trustworthy

Customers like support that’s professional because it assures them that their case will be handled appropriately. This is about professional conduct, not professional appearance.

Jargon can be useful in some situations, like when it’s geared toward a specific audience, making communication with that group more efficient. If you misjudge your audience, though, such special lingo just increases the threshold for understanding. The safest bet is to be professional in your actions and let your customers set the tone.

Strict protocols assure a high service quality

It’s a comforting idea: you define service rules that follow both your customer’s and your own goals, then get everyone in line – and you’re all set up.

But strict service protocols force both agents and customers into a framework that doesn’t allow for individual cases . Since these always appear, the bureaucratic machine is bound to jam at some point. When it does, escalating the issue to a manager is your only option, and it’s a strenuous one, both for you as for the customer.

Also think about how your agents feel when urged to follow a tight protocol. From the business’ perspective, they’re relieved from the responsibility to make difficult calls. From the employee’s own perspective, they’re deprived of the trust that they can make difficult calls and apply their common sense.

Toss in a communication script that dictates everything from greeting to goodbye and you got yourself a fully remote-controlled customer service agent. No doubt, this is a sure-fire way to demotivate employees.

Good service gives customers the feeling that things are always under control. Good service management gives employees the feeling that they’re in control of how to best help the customer. Great service teams need guidance, but it should rather be a loose, educational framework of principles within which they’re encouraged to act autonomously and take responsibility.

Rapid fire mythbusting

Let’s quickly slay some more myths.

Service ends when the issue is resolved
No, service ends when the customer says so. Always make sure they don’t have questions left and offer proactive service to prevent predictable issues, like customers approaching a limit in their product subscription plan. This signals you care, but also relieves both sides of unnecessary follow-ups.

a WhatsApp hub

Customers want infinite channel choice
No, they want high-quality, easily accessible support on their preferred channels.

The more personalization, the better
Only if it’s genuine and desired by the customer. Some negative examples: Obvious personalization techniques (like name showering), spilling data when the customer isn’t aware you have that data (“How’s the weather in New York?”), informal addressing and frequent emoji usage irrespective of the kind of customer you’re facing.

Customer service is the first line of defense
You’re not in a battle to fend off customers. You’re in a privileged position to support them.

Unsatisfied customers will let you know they’re unsatisfied
They will most likely just silently turn around and leave . Proactive service is one way to make your unsatisfied customers speak up, or not be unsatisfied in the first place.

The more simultaneous chats, the better
No, even when typing fast and using chat macros, there’s a natural limit to any agent’s capacity of simultaneous chats. At some point, the quality of support and response time plummets. So, put a cap on chat slots and raise it when your agents get bored have idle time. Two to three is plenty if your agents are starting out.

You need to be available 24/7
24/7 support is cool. But is it necessary? Efficient? Not really. Customers do expect first responses within a certain time. In a live chat conversation, up to 30 seconds is fine. For messages received when offline, via email, or better, via an all-encompassing customer communication software , up to 24 hours is good. Whatever time you aim for, let your customers know and highlight your service times.

Empathy is the key to good customer service
No, compassion is .

Hold music keeps customers patient and calm
No, as this BBC article explains, it’s either an opportunity for engaging the caller, or a health hazard – depending on who you ask and what Muzak you get.

Any pesky customer service myths I've missed? Let me know!