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Don’t Bluff Customers to Get Them Off the Phone

The pandemic has thrown so many consumers into new and unchartered territory, and we often must try to navigate it the best we can. That’s why it’s vital for the contact center workforce to check for errors in our requests, and not just assume everything will work out in the next billing cycle.

Allow me to share one frustrating example. In January 2022, the Biden Administration released a new rule stating that people could be reimbursed by their insurance companies for the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests. In our family, this was a big deal, as our household serves as a crossroads between three separate school districts. My son goes to school down the street and my daughter in the school system a few miles down the road, while my wife teaches on the other side of Boston. We go through COVID-19 tests like napkins.

When the new rule dropped, I dutifully collected receipts and sent them off to my health insurance provider. And waited. And waited.

When no compensation came back, I called my insurance provider. The agent on the phone assured me that there was a backlog, and that compensation would be coming. And so I waited. And waited.

Two months later, I then called back the insurance company, and again was told by another agent that there was a backlog. This time, I pointed out how long I had been waiting. Only then did they check and discover that I should have submitted the receipts to my prescription benefit manager instead. I did so, and was compensated a week later.

What if, instead of saying things take time, that agent had simply said, “I don’t know why it’s taking a long time…”? And what if they had looked into it and gotten back to me with the right information back in January?

My health insurance provider missed out on a great customer service opportunity. If they had taken my first query seriously, I would have been reimbursed at least a month earlier, and been left with a good feeling that they guided me to the right answer. Instead, I was frustrated by the whole process, and wished ill on the whole health care system.

This wasn’t the only time this has happened to my household this year. Recently, we switched cell services under the promise of a special price that didn’t materialize with the first billing cycle. We called the new service provider and were told that the special pricing would come through in the second billing cycle. And then the third. And the fourth. Only on the fifth call did they tell us they had made an error and had signed us up with an expired offer. We’re still trying to resolve this one.

Too often, the customer service industry underestimates the savviness of at least some of its customers. They treat us like we are toddlers who need to be told something to get us off the phone as quickly as possible. That might decrease Average Handle Time, but it doesn’t lead to great CX outcomes.

I am not naive when I am calling a health insurance provider; I know the process may be murky. In my home state of Massachusetts, fewer than 1% of customers of major insurance providers had asked for COVID-19 test compensation roughly a month after the new reimbursement program was initiated. I was under no illusions that this was going to be an easy process.

When I call a health care provider, or an airline, or a phone company, I am ready to wait. I call with my computer open and other tasks to accomplish while on hold. I also assume that each call may be a multistep process. Should it be easier? Yes. But I want my money or service, and I am willing to work for it. Many customers who don’t have a pressing, immediate need would much rather have the job done right than done quickly.

If what the customer is saying isn’t adding up, it often is okay for your contact center team to hit the pause button and tell a customer you will get back to them with the right answer. I would rather hear “I don’t know” once and wait for a call back than two months of silence.