Unfortunately, the story shared here is based on a real company event. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, but too bad the company name can’t be shared so they can be shamed for their part in poor customer experience and agent support.

An agent recently told me about a customer service situation that demonstrates how internal processes considered “open to interpretation,” failing to back up agents when they are right, and lack of follow-up with customers when there is an issue, can combine to create the worst possible customer experience.

Sue, an experienced claims agent, received a call from an angry customer, Mrs. Smith, who told Sue that felt she was unfairly charged for services that should be part of her coverage.

After verifying Mrs. Smith’s policy and information, Sue realized that Mrs. Smith was correct, so she entered a request for refund and told the customer she was doing so. Sue told me that she had done these requests for similar customer issues and was following the same processes and procedures as before.

Sue explained to Mrs. Smith that the refund was pending final approval and that she would receive an email within the next 24 to 48 hours confirming the status of the refund.

Mrs. Smith was delighted to have such quick and positive service, and thanked Sue for her help. Sue then closed out her portion of the interaction and moved on to assist other customers.

Sue told me that the standard process was for the request to be signed off by her direct manager and then submitted by him to operations and finance areas for final processing.

Ten days after Sue submitted the refund request, she received a detailed email chain, which included emails from operations and finance supervisors and managers. The email was a forward from her manager with a note saying he wanted her to see the request results “in case the customer called again.”

As she read through the pages, it was clear that not only her direct manager but multiple people in process, finance, service and operations had chimed in on why the refund should or shouldn’t be paid.

Each department involved in the refund had their own interpretation of the process and in fact, some said that Sue was wrong in even requesting such a refund.

The final email was from a high-level director who said that Sue was correct and the refund would be issued that week.

Mrs. Smith did in fact call the next day to find out why she had not received a refund email or any other contact. She was very angry and accused Sue of being “incompetent.”  Mrs. Smith insisted on being transferred to Sue’s manager.

Sue overheard the manager explaining to the customer that there had been some “internal delays.”  He never told Mrs. Smith that Sue had done everything correctly and was not to blame.

  • Day 1: Customer is told refund request is submitted and she will receive email confirmation on status. Customer is happy.
  • Day 2 to Day 10: Internal people argue over the way to handle and who is right.
  • Day 11: Previously happy customer becomes angry customer.  Agent has to take the customer anger and manager does nothing to defend the agent during the internal process email exchanges or let the customer know that Sue was correct. Major fail for customer follow-up and agent support.
  • Day 12: Sue wakes up wondering if she wants to continue working at a company that doesn’t back her up and focuses on petty internal process arguments instead of making the customer and her feel valued.

Policy “interpretation” happens at more than just Sue’s company. How many times have you been a customer and found different answers to your policy questions depending on the person, the department, and the channel or seemingly the time of day you ask?

Our agents and our customers deserve clarity, trust and consistent communication. We will make mistakes at times, but we shouldn’t make them based on department in-fighting or processes that confuse and irritate those who receive the information and those who have to deliver it.