8 Points of Contact in Customer Service (6 Too Many)

4 May 2020 | 8 Comments

On Friday I had an experience that made me look at customer service in a different way. It was a rather bad experience–but not entirely terrible–which made it stand out.

I received a letter from my company’s dental provider, Anthem, informing us of an upcoming renewal. That was great–I like when any type of subscription service prompts you before they charge more money.

However, I noticed that the letter was forwarded from my old address (I moved my home/office last year). So I signed on my employer account on Athem’s website to change the address…only to find that wasn’t an option.

So I called customer service and politely explained that I wanted to change my address. This was the first of SIX brief conversations and calls, all of which started with me asking to change my mailing address and ending with the person telling me they would transfer me to the representative who could make that change. Finally, the last person told me I needed to email the change to Anthem, and they provided the email address.

On the surface, this is terrible customer service, right? I shouldn’t need to spend 45 minutes on the phone with 6 different people to change my mailing address. But here’s the odd thing: Every person I spoke to was nice and competent. They were doing their best to serve me based on Anthem’s system.

It made me realize that even great customer interactions can be foiled by a decentralized system that requires too many points of contact to resolve an issue. How many are too many? I’d say 1 is great, 2 is often ideal, and 3+ is too many.

For example, say you buy a Stonemaier product and discover that a piece is missing. Perhaps you can’t find our replacement parts form, so you post a comment or send us an email. That’s 1 point of contact. We would then direct you to the form (2nd point of contact). That’s it. You’re done.

The experience made me look at our website in a new way, particularly with the addition of Joe as our Director of Communications (many direct messages go to him first, and he resolves most of them, with only a small number ending up with me).

I’ve started viewing any new request or question through this lens: How many points of contact were required for the customer’s request to be resolved? If the answer is more than 3, what can I do to reduce that number in the future?

I mentioned above that 2 points of contact is often ideal. The reason I mention this is because I think there are certain types of privately asked questions that are better asked publicly where others can benefit from the answers. I still get rules questions asked privately on BoardGameGeek and via my personal Facebook messenger, and I think the freedom for me to say, “Please ask this in a Scythe thread the Scythe Facebook group” is mutually beneficial for all parties (especially since the customer then knows the correct place to get the fastest answers in the future).

I like when a good or bad customer service experience helps me look at Stonemaier’s system in a new way. My experience with Anthem was a great reminder that great service goes beyond positive interactions–it’s also about reducing the points of contact to a reasonable number.

Have you had a recent experience with too many (or the right number) of points of contact?

Also read: A Proposal: Let’s Not Talk Business Over Facebook Messenger and Text

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8 Comments on “8 Points of Contact in Customer Service (6 Too Many)

  1. It’s so nice to see you come to this realization by yourself. I do this for a living for huge corporations and would be amazed how they are alien to this simple common fact: the sheer amount of channels they put their customers through because “of the system”.

    A very useful tool that I use on workshops to help everyone visualize where are the pain points and channels the customer is going through to complete an action that is solving their problem is the customer journey mapping – I really recommend you do a small workshop session with your teammates to help visualize those paths your customers are taking inside Stonemaier :) Some you may already know and might be obvious but some might surprise you – plus, it’s fun!

  2. At my previous job, I had Aetna for my medical insurance. Somehow, through their fault, mine, or my employer’s, they got my birthday wrong – an 8 instead of a 3. I discovered this when my birthday wasn’t correct at the pharmacy. Not a big deal – they knew me there, so they knew I was who I said I was, and they told me what the birthday was in the system.

    Alright, cool. Let’s ask the insurance company to fix it. “You have to talk to the contact person at your place of employment so they can fix it.” What.

    Alright, so that’s too much work. Instead I just use the invalid birthday at the pharmacy.

    Except now I have a new job. Cool. Problem gone, right? It’s Aetna again, but when I put in the correct information when I sign up, surely that’ll update the system. Surely.

    Nope.

    1. I’m an HR Benefits Administrator :) The reason you were referred back to your employer was because they hold the system of record and your coverage is likely transmitted to the carrier on a weekly basis via an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) file. If Aetna corrects it in their system, it would simply be overwritten with the wrong birthdate again by the next weekly file from your employer. Of course there’s the issue of identity verification and Aetna isn’t going to ask you for a copy of your birth certificate to validate your claim of what your correct birthdate is. Your employer verified your identity upon your employment and that is why they hold the system of record. Hope that helps explain the otherwise seemingly unnecessary step of referring you back to your employer ;)

      1. Yeah, I figured it was something like that, but it was annoying enough that I didn’t bother at that point. Thanks for the info though.

        1. It may seem odd to do at this point, but if your former employer is still in business, you can still contact them and ask them to update Aetna with your correct birthdate so that you aren’t still having the issue with your current coverage (or any other potential employers you might work for in the future who also use Aetna). I know it’s a pain, but taking a few minutes now to send an email to your former HR can save you potential countless annoyances in the future too. Most of us HR people are pretty nice and are more than willing to help correct the issue – it is what we do after all! ;) Good luck!

  3. Years ago when I worked for Apple retail, they had a key step of service in trying to assure the customer only had to tell their story once. It started with the initial point of contact listening and asking for enough information that the customer felt heard. This was repeated back in summation if what the specialist heard was correct. Then it was handed off to the correct business area where the specialist explained the situation and then confirmed with the customer if everything was explained correctly. That initial person became their champion and advocate to help them through the process.

    I always found this allowed customers to feel like their situation was being heard and addressed. It prevented people from escalating having to repeat their problem over and over because one person took the time to listen and help them at the start. Phone service has this ability as well. Call centers take notes and basic level information. By understanding and reflecting back the situation to a customer it allows them to be at ease and saves time for all parties.

    I feel this is a huge step missing in many customer service situations. People always want to just give the answer but are not actually listening to what the customer is saying. Thus they repeat themselves over and over until finally finding the right person to speak with.

    Years later there has been a shift in customer advocacy,I have found genius bar service to be like going into battle. A legal battle to prove why they should complete a service; at no cost within warranty. Staff now combat customers on behalf of a company to ensure their profitability. Yet when I worked there it was said if they just stopped selling everything at one point they would have enough money to run repair service for 5 years on just their liquidible assets. That number has surly increased.

  4. I think if someone sends something to me and I send it directly to you, then the customer is only experiencing one point of contact. As long as we can direct the customer to the person who has the answer/solution, potentially without them even seeing the handoff, that’s great. But this is all easier by email where a lot of networking can happen without the customer feeling like they’re being dragged along.

  5. I called Sprint many years ago and asked a guy who was clearly in India to switch the phone numbers between two phones. It’s certainly a weird request but he did it in two minutes. He wasn’t confused about what I wanted and didn’t need to have someone else take care of it.

    The customer service you got is absolutely terrible. People move all of the time. A change of address should be done by the first person on the phone and should take no more than the time it takes to read the address to them and have them read it back. There certainly must be some special question they can ask to make sure you are not being nefarious and changing someone else’s address for an account that is not yours.

    I also interacted with Barnes & Noble a year ago where they changed the email address associated with my member account so that I could sign on online and use the account while placing orders. The email address had been set to my wife’s. They did this on the phone without too many questions. I guess they don’t care so much if I’m trying to screw up the account of an ex-wife or anything like that (which I wasn’t). Again, it was one person who did complicated stuff on the phone and not six people and an email.

    I have not had to deal with SM customer service. I somehow think you guys would do a good job of it.

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