What A Customer Care Agent Inadvertently Taught Me About Employee Experience
Updated: Oct 9
A couple of years back I had ordered an item with Amazon that was apparently non-returnable - a detail that I missed at the time of placing the order. Being an Amazon regular, I assumed that this order will be no different from others in terms of replacement and refunds. As luck would have it, the order was delivered and the item turned out to be heavier than expected. Quite naturally, I tried returning the item from the app and then got to know it was not eligible for a return! I had heard a lot about Amazon swearing by its customer service and thought of speaking to them once, fully aware that I was at fault by inadvertently overlooking this important detail.
The customer service agent picked up the call and politely told me about the no-return policy for that product clearly mentioned on the website. I informed her that I somehow overlooked this detail and requested her if this request can be considered. The equipment was for my parents and based on their age they aren’t able to use it as it was too heavy for them. She requested me to hold the call while she wanted to check what can be done. In less than 2 minutes she was back online and told me that my return request was approved as an exception! That single interaction a few years back made me the Amazon loyalist that I am today, and who influenced that decision? A customer care agent right at the very end of the corporate food-chain!
Pre and post this experience I have never had a half-meaningful interaction with the CS of any company ever. Each time all that I hear are scripted responses, limited information, and tight controls - ‘we have shared your concern with the relevant team and they will get back to you’, ‘as per company policy we cannot process your request’, ‘let me forward your call to my supervisor’ and the likes.
So what did Amazon do differently? Most importantly, they did not throw the rule book at my face! (which is always the easiest option).
Trust - My genuine reason was taken at face-value, I was completely trusted.
Empathy - The person put herself in my shoes and then looked at the situation. Because the order was for my parents, there was an additional undertone of concern. I felt cared for.
Patient Hearing - There was never a rush from the agent to move on to the next call or abruptly end the conversation. I was patiently heard.
Speed of Execution - No call on hold for 10 minutes, no ‘can you call us back tomorrow to check’, no ‘can you send us an email stating this request for us to review and approve’. It took 2 minutes flat to get an exception approval! I was surprised and delighted.
Service Mindset - Throughout the conversation, there was a real intent to serve and address my problem. It was not just-another-call from just-another-customer. I felt someone was genuinely interested in my concern.
Empowerment / Decentralization - Can you imagine the kind of empowerment that the agent was used to? This credit goes to corporate structuring and a very high degree of freedom given to ensure customer delight
While we learn from Stan Lee that 'with great powers come great responsibility', the opposite also holds true. If you expect someone to deliver upon a critical responsibility, they need to be appropriately empowered as well!
All this made me wonder why can’t the same ‘Delight’ be replicated for internal customers i.e. employees. What are the learnings from an Employee Experience perspective? This is what came to my mind:
Do I talk to the ‘employee’ or the person?
Am I ready with a response even before the query is stated?
Do I operate with assumptions and biases?
Do I have a genuine intent to address the issue?
Do I give sufficient time to completely understand the concern?
Do I then spend sufficient time solving for it?
Do I get back to the person in reasonable time with a resolution?
Am I empowered enough to deliver what is expected of me? If not, will I present a case and ensure that I do?
HR professionals (especially those in business partnering roles) can use these as a ready-reckoner for self assessment and possibly become even better at what they do.
Bonus Perspective! Because of this very reason HR business partnering and other people-facing roles can never be automated I believe. We are humans first with a basic need to be heard, understood and engage in active communication. While in distress we also expect to be understood by what is NOT being said as well.
This is what makes your job extremely complex and challenging. But this is also what makes it extremely gratifying as well.
Keep up the spirit folks! And kudos for the awesome work that most HR teams are doing in helping people weather this storm. Don’t forget to take care of yourself as well.