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Why deflection is the opposite of good CX

Maze with abstract figure entering

Now, before you get all upset – I get it. Not every customer needs to have their handheld by an agent for every use case. And there is absolutely a place for chatbots, callbacks, switching voice calls to digital, better self-service content, etc. But just because these technologies exist, doesn’t mean every conversation should be deflected for the sake of lower costs. But how can you tell if a given use case should be deflected? And even if deflection is the right strategy for your business? The short answer: keep reading.

What is deflection in customer service?

Customer service is always looking for a better, faster, cheaper way to resolve customer issues, and a few years ago that led to the idea of pushing customers from their current channel to an alternate one, or what we call deflection. This could manifest itself as placing content with potential answers before a request or contact form, to stop the customer from ever reaching out. It could also mean pushing customers already on a given channel, such as voice, to a cheaper channel, such as chat, in order to take advantage of concurrency or lower cost resources.

Whichever form it takes, if it comes off as a little disruptive to the customer experience – moving them from where they are to where you want them to be. So why do it? A bunch of reasons.

The advantages of using deflection in customer service

Businesses have many good reasons to introduce tools and tactics to deflect customer inquiries. These include:

1. Efficiency and time savings

The primary advantage of deflection is its ability to streamline an organization’s customer service processes, reducing the volume of customer tickets by redirecting them to self-service options, such as FAQs, knowledge bases, or automated systems. This saves time for support agents, and may save time for customers as well – especially if they have straightforward queries and easy-to-find answers. The rationale is to automate simple, repeatable customer questions so that agents can focus on more complex issues that require human intervention.

2. Cost savings

In customer service, efficiency often translates directly into cost savings. Afterall, when customers can resolve their issues without the need to involve an agent, it reduces the workload on customer service teams. This allows businesses to allocate resources more effectively and potentially decrease the need for agent headcount, resulting in short-term financial benefits for the organization.

3. Consistency in information

Self-service deflection methods ensure consistency in the information provided to customers because these automated systems and knowledge bases deliver the same responses every time. This is particularly crucial for products that require accurate and uniform information, for example, a process that must be completed in a certain order. Pointing customers to the same set of instructions eliminates the risk of human error or inconsistency in communication, though it’s also dependent on those sources being regularly updated.

4. 24/7 Availability

Self-service options can provide customers with assistance around the clock, which is beneficial for businesses with a global customer base. Automated systems and online resources can equally serve customers from different time zones as they are not limited to certain working hours like agents. There is a risk for more complex issues that require escalations, but for simple inquiries this can be a 24/7 solution.

5. Empowerment of savvy customers

Deflection empowers more adept customers – or those who may not want to contact an agent – by giving them the tools and resources to solve their problems independently. Providing access to a comprehensive knowledge base or a user-friendly self-service portal enhances the customer experience by allowing individuals to take control of future inquiries. If this is done well, it can contribute to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.

The disadvantages of deflection in customer service

Like most things that seem too good to be true, there’s also a catch – or rather a few catches. Deflection may have a negative impact on customers and the customer experience, such as:

1. Lack of personal connection

One of the major downsides of deflection is the loss of truly personalized customer interactions. While automated systems and self-service options are getting better at basic personalization, like preferences or surfacing content based on search history, these tools lack the human touch that can be crucial in certain situations. Customers may feel undervalued if their concerns are consistently directed to automated channels without the opportunity for personalized assistance.

2. Risk of customer frustration

While deflection aims to provide quick solutions, it can backfire if customers perceive it as a way for businesses to avoid addressing their concerns. Frustration may arise if customers feel that their issues are not being taken seriously or that the company is prioritizing cost savings over customer satisfaction. This is especially acute in cases where customers are not savvy, adept, or familiar with your self-service options. Striking a balance between efficiency and genuine customer care is crucial – which relates to the next point…

3. Complex issues require human touch

Not all customer queries can be resolved through automated systems or self-service options. Complex issues, nuanced inquiries, or situations requiring empathy and understanding typically fall outside the capabilities of deflection methods. Yes, even your cuddly chatbot. In such cases, customers may become dissatisfied if they cannot easily escalate their concerns to a human representative.

4. Potential for misinterpretation

Automated systems, while efficient, may misinterpret customer queries or provide generic responses that do not fully address the issue at hand. Advanced virtual assistants are getting better at asking follow up questions to understand context, but it’s still early days. In addition, these systems must be regularly updated and refined to provide the right information or risk frustrating the custom even more. Generally, when it comes to context and understanding the nuance of human communication, humans are just a bit better.

5. Negative impact on brand perception

Over reliance on deflection can negatively impact the perception of a company’s brand. This may be perfectly fine for larger companies that provide commoditized products and services, or for whom cost is the main reason customers choose them. But if that’s not the case for your brand, and customers consistently associate you with automated responses and lack of personalized support, it may harm the overall image of your business. Balancing deflection with personalized customer engagement is crucial to maintaining a positive brand reputation and handle both issues well and the first time.

6. Lack of direct customer feedback

The voice of the customer (VOC) category is worth over $6 billion as of 2020. These solutions are designed to capture how customers feel about your company and products through surveys and other voluntary feedback. The issue is, they tend to skew results toward very happy and very unhappy customers. But the actual voice of your customer is embedded in all the emails, chats, messages, and phone calls your business handles every day. By capturing those insights, you can better tell how customers are really feeling, where your products or company policies are causing friction, and how well you agents are handling issues. But if you deflect all of those, you miss out on those insights. And that means your customers all understand what’s wrong with your customer experience well before you do.

Striking the right balance

To maximize the benefits of deflection while minimizing drawbacks, businesses must understand their customers – including how adept and eager they are to resolve issues themselves – as well as use cases – whether they require simple instructions or a more consultative approach. This will help you pick and choose which use cases are “deflect-able” and which require an agent. It also helps you understand which automated systems and self-service options complement your approach. The goal is to design a customer experience strategy that keeps customers satisfied while also being efficient and cost-effective. Because if you never want to speak to your customers, eventually, they’re going to feel the same.

Image by Arek Socha 

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