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Stop the Spread of Bad Info in Customer Care

road less traveled As a customer, do you ever feel like you're stuck in an old-timey comedy routine?

My wife, Sally, and I recently had one of those experiences. Ironically, it happened while we were lining up to get into a comedy club.

An employee approached us. "You’re in the wrong line," he said. "Get in that line," pointing to another queue of customers.

So we dutifully followed his directions.

"This is the wrong line," said another employee, pointing back to the line we just came from. “You need to be in that line.”

"We were just in that line," we replied. "Your coworker told us to get in this line."

"He doesn't know what he’s talking about. I know what I'm talking about. Get in that line."

Confused, we started going back to the first line when a third employee intervened. "No, get in that line," he said, pointing to yet a third line.

By now, Sally and I were starting to wonder if we were on some sort of hidden camera prank show. Why are there so many lines? Are they just messing with us?

Sadly, no. The comedy club employees were just giving out misinformation. The big question is why do customer service employees routinely do this?

What's the impact of giving customers bad information?

The salesperson confidently told a customer, "If anything happens, even if it just gets a scratch, the company will replace it, free of charge."

That bold claim was enough to convince the customer to make a purchase. The claim was also totally wrong.

The reality? If the product broke, the company would repair it free of charge. The customer felt cheated when they learned the warranty didn't extend to cosmetic issues like a scratch.

Customers can experience unnecessary misery when employees share misinformation. It might be a bit of frustration, like the experience at the comedy club. It could be a true service failure, like a customer who believes a salesperson's false promise, only to learn the salesperson exaggerated to make a sale.

Why do employees give out the wrong information?

There are multiple reasons why an employee might give out false or misleading information to employees. Here are a few:

Bad incentives

Employees are sometimes incentivized to lie. For instance, a retail salesperson might receive a commission if they bend the truth a bit to get a sale. They could even be more motivated to lie if they know they won't have to deal with any subsequent fallout.


Some employees overestimate their ability. A Cornell University study discovered that the less someone knows about something, the more likely they are to overrate their knowledge. A subsequent study from Yale found that people who can easily search for information on the internet also have an inflated sense of smarts.

Bad data

Employees can sometimes give out the wrong information because their data source is wrong or out of date. For example, a technical support rep struggled to solve an issue with her company's app because her knowledge base hadn't been updated with information about the latest software release.


People stop making great decisions when they are under stress. That's what happened at the comedy club. The previous show ran long and now the club was late getting people seated for the next show. This put employees in the weeds, where nobody knew exactly what to do, but everyone felt they had to do something to keep the line of people steadily moving into the club.

How can you improve information quality?

Companies can use several strategies to make sure employees are giving customers accurate and truthful information.


Reduce the number of places employees have to look for information. For instance, one company used a comprehensive elearning system to train employees on products and policies, but employees used a separate system on-the-job once their training was complete. The training system was often out-of-date, so the company solved the issue by using just one system for both training and on-the-job.


It's helpful to audit the sources of information employees use to answer customer questions, especially when you encounter a service failure that happened because an employee gave a false or misleading answer to a customer. One option is a customer experience promise audit that reviews whether promises made by marketing, sales, and other departments are actually being kept.


A great way to avoid misinformation is to constantly reinforce the correct information. Some customer service teams require reps to cite the source of an answer when sharing data with customers, such as a link to a knowledge base article. Other teams use team huddles and other information-sharing techniques to keep everyone updated.

Customers ultimately trust businesses that keep their promises. This includes sharing accurate information and setting clear, reliable expectations

This article originally appeared in Jeff Toister’s blog. It is being reprinted with permission.


Topics: Best Practices, Customer Experience, Coaching And Quality Management