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Silent Suffering: Why Your Customers Don’t Contact You By Roy Atkinson

Silent Suffering: Why Your Customers Don’t Contact You by Roy Atkinson

Recently, an HDI member who is a senior IT manager asked a troubling question: Why do end users or customers ignore issues and continue to suffer, rather than contact support and get the issues addressed?

What we know from the HDI 2017 Technical Support Practices & Salary Report is that 64 percent of customers (or end users) contact support. Now it may be that some get through an entire year without ever having a reason to contact support or ask a question, but 36 percent of your user base is too large a percentage to write off and say, “They’re fine.” This especially holds true when our friends at MetricNet tell us that the average is from 1 to 2.5 tickets per user per month, largely depending on the industry.

So, what is keeping a large portion of our workforce from taking advantage of the services the support center provides? To a great degree, it is the phenomenon known as friction.

Friction in service is very much like friction in physics—it causes us to exert more effort than we otherwise would. Simply put, friction is the difficulty we encounter when we need service. Here is how one employee answered the question about why she didn’t contact support to get things fixed, instead of trying to work through them:

“If I call the service desk, it becomes my problem, even if it isn’t. I call and say that the printer in this area is broken. Now there’s a ticket in my name, and I have to go check the printer and let the service desk know if it’s working after I get an email telling me it’s fixed, and then I get a survey in my inbox. It wasn’t my problem—it was a broken printer down the hall—but it becomes my problem.”

Add to this the time spent waiting in a phone queue, or getting a chat started, or filling out a web form. The effort involved in getting the printer fixed is greater than the effort of walking the extra distance to the next closest printer—so the end user never calls or otherwise contacts support.

The same holds true when the issue is something annoying but relatively minor with the person’s laptop, phone, or tablet. An employee may hobble along for months with a broken keyboard, jumpy mouse, cracked screen, or crashing app without ever reporting it.

If customers or users have negative feelings about support, they are far less likely to contact you, of course. If the experience was miserable the last time the user mentioned above tried to get attention on a printer issue, how likely is she to try again? Not very. Customers can lose confidence in the support center for a number of reasons—including, but not restricted to:

  • Incorrect information
  • Inconsistent information
  • Lack of empathy, especially for a sense of urgency
  • Length of time to get an issue addressed
  • Assigning blame to the user
  • Concentration on process rather than people
  • A history of getting no for an answer

One way to improve this phenomenon and reduce the friction is to use the Customer Effort Score (CES). The score is based on a single question, of which there are many variations: How easy was it to get your issue resolved? Although there are various ways to rate it, the simplest is a scale of 0 to 5, with 0 being very difficult and 5 being not difficult at all. When you receive very low customer effort scores, you can follow up with those folks and see what made it so difficult, just as you would follow up with those who gave you very low customer satisfaction scores.

The best way to avoid making it difficult for your customers and users is to do as much as you can to prevent things from going wrong in the first place. But this is not always possible. When the broken printer turns out to be broken because the maintenance crew smacked it with a heavy hand truck, thereby breaking the feed trays, there isn’t anything in your monitoring or self-healing systems that can help you.

The whole question of being difficult to deal with goes straight to the heart of customer experience. Understanding what customers go through and how they feel about it at every stage is an important part of improvement.

Seek out those who haven’t contacted support in the past six months and ask them why. It’s a good proactive step to help end the suffering in silence.

This article originally appeared in SupportWorld.


Roy Atkinson is one of the top influencers in the service and support industry. His blogs, presentations, research reports, white papers, keynotes, and webinars have gained him an international reputation. In his role as Senior Writer/Analyst, he acts as HDI’s in-house subject matter expert, bringing his years of experience to the community. He was inducted into the HDI Hall of Fame in April 2018.

Roy has an extensive background in customer service as well as technical support. He has worked in the banking, retail and hospitality industries as well as information technology. He worked in service desk and desktop support at The Jackson Laboratory, one of the world’s premier scientific research institutions. He completed a two-year course of study and earned a Master’s Certificate in Advanced Management Strategy at Tulane University’s A.B. Freeman School of Business in 2011. He is one of the co-hosts of the popular #custserv chat on Twitter, which has been running continuously every Tuesday since 2009.

This article originally appeared in our e-book Build a Better Customer Experience. Read the full book here which contains advice from 10 CX industry experts.

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