The Gist

  • Customer service. Customers want to be helped, not deflected.
  • Defensive posture. Deflection puts your organization in a defensive mindset that is not customer-friendly.
  • Support optimization. Focus on creating an excellent information and self-service experience to reduce the need for expensive human support and minimize the need for deflection.

It’s very common that those of us responsible for customer-facing knowledge management have deflection as a key performance indicator (KPI), or at least a goal, but should it be? Is deflecting our customer really what we seek to do?

Automation Aims to Deflect; Customers Want to Be Helped

I recently had to go through the full support process for a brand that I’m now thinking I might be a bit too loyal to. My journey started with trying to self-service on the brand's website, as it almost always does. The website was broken, I think, and I couldn’t find any information that helped me understand what I was seeing. I waited several hours hoping the problem would resolve itself, but it did not. Finally, I carved a half hour out of my day to call support.

Phone support started the way it often does these days. I was picked up by an automated system that encouraged me to talk to it like it was human while behaving like a text-based "choose your own adventure" built in the 90s. It said, “I didn’t understand that, can you please repeat your question?” Twelve times (I counted). In between those 12 times, it provided me with several options that didn’t match what I wanted. All in all, this system did everything it could to keep me from human support.

Its job was to deflect me. I didn’t want to be deflected, I wanted to be helped. I knew it was trying to deflect me and that to get help I was going to have to wrestle it into allowing me to talk to a person.

Related Article: How to Improve the Call Center Customer Experience

Being Deflected in Customer Support Is an Awful, Defensive Mindset

So many things are wrong here, but there are really just two big ones that should stand out to everyone who cares about customer experience.

Poor digital customer experience. First, the brand's digital experience (website, in this case) failed on multiple levels. It didn’t help me and wasn’t able to explain why. This is the core problem, of course. I never wanted to move past this channel. I wanted to self-service and be done with it. I absolutely 100% did not want to call support. We all know that I’m not alone here. The reason 70% of customers (according to Gartner, but also plenty of other research puts the number +/- a few percent of this) start with self-service is because 70% of customers want to end with self-service. It’s not a jumping off point, it is the point.

Deflection = terrible customer experience. But let’s say my issue truly couldn’t be resolved through self-service. The second major problem here is the one this article is really about: the deflection. Deflection is a defensive strategy. Using this as the goal, you automatically put your organization in a mindset of defending yourself from the customer. It’s awful. No one wants to be deflected. And everyone knows when they’re being deflected. Take whatever statistic you want on the percentage of customers who will consider leaving a brand after a single bad experience and then ask yourself, “Has anyone ever had a good experience being deflected?”

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Kinder AI in the Contact Center: Best Ways to Improve Your AI Customer Support

Automated Support Systems Fail Customers in Their Hour of Need

Automated phone systems that attempt deflection are particularly problematic, but even the automatic search systems that read the title of your support ticket and suggest articles aren’t a great experience. I have never clicked on a suggested article when I’m in the process of submitting a ticket and been pleasantly surprised because it solved my problem.

The reality is that no one wants to contact support, and by the time they’ve gotten to that last resort they’ve already committed themselves to the process, so attempts to knock them off course are unhelpful.

What Should We Do? Deflection vs. Customer Information Experience

It’s really not complicated (conceptually). There are two kinds of companies when it comes to self-service. There are companies that focus on “deflection,” and there are companies that focus on customer information experience (and get fewer support tickets as a result). Be the latter.

Fewer support tickets should be a result, not the goal. When your company creates an excellent information and self-service experience, your customers will leverage your expensive human support less because they’ll need to leverage it less. You won’t need to deflect them because they won’t be coming at you in numbers that require a defensive posture.

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