8 customer service challenges and how to resolve them

The most important skill for a customer service agent to learn is empathy. That, plus a well-crafted customer service plan, can solve nearly any problem that arises.

Customer service agents are the first line of defense in solving issues and managing customer expectations, but finding a solution is not always as easy as it seems.

How an agent addresses a challenge can be the difference between a repeat customer or one that will seek out a competitor. Understanding the top eight common challenges -- and how to address them -- is only the first step to ensuring long-term customer loyalty.

1. Managing customer expectations

The core of all customer service interactions is understanding the customer's needs and the best way to satisfy them. It begins with customer service agents actively listening to the customer as they explain their issue. Next, agents must act as investigators as they take that information and ask additional questions to get to the root cause of the problem. Then, they can identify the best solution based on the company's processes and procedures.

Customer service agents must empathize with customers because they need to build a relationship that instills trust. If the customer knew how to resolve the problem independently, they would not have reached out for help. The customer service agent can address the issue beginning with an apology:

"Mr. Black, we're sorry for the problem you are experiencing. Let's see how we can get this matter resolved for you. Can you tell me more about what's happening?"

Then, the agent can ask follow-up questions to help get more context for the problem. Once the agent identifies the root problem and possible cause, they can start finding viable solutions.

A list of nine traits that identify a successful and efficient call center agent.
As the direct link between business and customer, a call center agent is expected to be able to handle any situation.

2. Not having a satisfactory answer

The general expectation is that a service agent will resolve any concern or problem a customer may have. However, a time will inevitably come when a customer service agent cannot answer a customer's question or provide a satisfactory resolution to their problem. If a proper solution takes time beyond the first call, customers should have their expectations managed with regularly scheduled follow-ups. A possible response to a customer could be:

"Ms. Johnson, I am looking at your account information. Based on what you are telling me and what I can view on your account, I will need to follow up with another agent to give you the correct information on the next steps. Can I place you on hold for two minutes to do that follow-up?"

It's essential to manage expectations and provide an update if a full resolution is still in progress. It's critical not to leave the customer wondering.

3. Transferring customer calls too frequently

There are two red flags for customers when they contact a customer service department -- a phone tree that goes on and on and automated messages that transfer them from team to team. While a call sometimes needs to be transferred to better support a customer's needs, making this process as seamless as possible is crucial to creating a superior customer experience. The agent should inform the customer who they will be speaking to and why this transfer is appropriate to their particular needs. A possible response might be:

The general expectation is that a service agent will resolve any concern or problem a customer may have.

"Ms. Hall, I am going to transfer you over to Sue, who is in the payments department. She is better able to look into the details of what happened with your bill back in September. I will remain on the line with you as this takes place."

4. Upset customers

An unfortunate yet common experience is encountering angry customers, and it takes skill to handle them appropriately. Customers want their dissatisfaction taken seriously and their problem resolved as quickly as possible. It is essential that a customer service agent listens and responds with genuine empathy and compassion during these interactions. A good guideline is to apologize for the situation; a customer service agent should take responsibility and accountability for the organization.

"Mr. Smith, I'm sorry this happened. Let me see what I can do to resolve this situation for you as quickly as possible."

5. Customers are dealing with service outages

It is paramount to be transparent with customers about what the service team does and does not know when service outages happen. The best approach is to explain what the problem appears to be at that moment, including if there is no current estimated time of resolution. There is often an ongoing communication response plan by those working on the outage or crisis response teams in cases like this.

"Mrs. Jones, I'm sorry that this outage has impacted you. The service outage is on our end, and our response team is diagnosing the problem with our technicians. Once we have a clear idea of the cause, we can provide an estimate for when the service will be restored. Based on my current information, we expect to get our next update in an hour. At that point, I could provide an update via email or text message, depending on your preference. Thank you for your patience and understanding."

6. Lack of time due to serving multiple customers at once

Addressing multiple tasks and customers at a time is sometimes unavoidable. It's often best to have a method in place to handle these scenarios when they arise. When addressing the first customer, the agent should inform them it will take time to manage their inquiry or find a solution. Often, customers are okay being placed on hold if it means a resolution is coming.

"Ms. Lee, are you okay if I place you on hold to look into this situation further? It should only take me a couple of minutes."

Then, if another call comes through, the customer service agent will be expected to multitask both interactions. The goal should be to create an experience that feels personalized -- even while handling multiple calls. This is a skill that will develop over time and takes practice to perfect.

7. Not having a solution to the customer's problem

Occasionally, a customer may have a request that goes beyond what a company provides or offers. In such a situation, the customer service agent is responsible for managing expectations. It's best to give a 'soft no' and provide a comparable alternative if possible.

"Thank you for calling, Mr. Adams. Unfortunately, this is not something we currently offer, but we can do X, which is not quite the same but may still address your needs."

8. Customer service inquiries are not consistent

As service and product offerings evolve, new procedures for addressing issues can come from ad hoc experiences. As a result, the customer service experience may be inconsistent and not align with the customer service workflow or the appropriate stage in the customer journey. The agent should be able to use their expertise to help address any discrepancies. As the customer service team compares the agent's work against the established customer service plan, they can identify key areas to be revised while keeping the customer journey in mind.

Applying the tips identified in these eight scenarios will enable customer service agents to tackle challenging customer service situations and help build long-lasting customer loyalty.

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