Customer Service: Customers Have Emotional Baggage Too

By Chris Herbert

92% of customers have interacted with the firm before they talk to a rep; acknowledging this and resolving any outstanding issues will improve customer service

The customer relationship is the foundation of any customer service organization, and like any relationship it can get complicated.

The success or otherwise of most customer interactions are determined by previous interactions the customer has had with the company. CEB Customer Contact data show that 92% of customers enter a “live service interaction” – that is, a conversation with a service rep rather than a computer or automated voice – following a previous customer service interaction with the company.

So when a customer talks to a customer service rep they, much like any other relationship, bring emotional “baggage” with them. While this baggage may not necessarily be related to the resolution of the current customer issue, it influences the customer’s expectation about the quality of the service they expect to receive, and their perception of the live interaction.

Baggage Handling

Frontline reps are best placed to use the CRM system or simply ask customers to understand their previous interactions with the firm. But many actively avoid doing so because it can be a difficult conversation. As one customer noted with sarcasm during a CEB Customer Contact survey:

“The sheer fact that they knew I’d called before and had issues before would be practically revolutionary.”

Customer service managers should help their reps handle customer baggage; not only will this improve customer satisfaction but it will help a firm differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace.

Customers service managers should help their reps do the following during a call or online chat.

  1. Pick up on customer cues and clues that indicate baggage.
  2. Willingly look to find out more about a customer’s baggage.
  3. Ask natural questions to learn more about a customer’s previous experiences.
  4. Acknowledge these experiences; don’t gloss over them.
  5. Take ownership of any situation where a customer has had a bad experience and, if there are any outstanding issues, seek to resolve them.
  6. Build customer confidence by telling them what next steps will be taken.

Baggage Handling Benefits

On average, the CEB Customer Contact data showed a 14% drop in customers’ perceptions of effort to resolve their issue. To put it in customers’ own words:

“Acknowledging the previous issues made the interaction feel more personal and made it seem like they will try very hard not to make the same mistake. I found this refreshing and a great improvement compared to previous experiences.”

Furthermore, there are beneficial effects for reps as well:

“Customers appreciate it when I show them that I understand their situation and what they had to do with us before. They feel so much more confident in me and it makes my job easier.”

Join NewVoiceMedia and CEB's webinar on January 29 to discover more findings from CEB's research and learn what service leaders must do to improve the service experience. 

Join NewVoiceMedia and CEB to discover what CEB found in their 2014 Customer Experience Survey and learn what service leaders must do to improve the service experience. - See more at:

CEB is the world’s leading member-based advisory company. It has a unique view into what matters — and what works — when capitalizing on drivers of business performance. With 30 years' experience working with top companies to share, analyze and apply proven practices, CEB begins with great outcomes and reverse engineers to help businesses unlock their full potential. Find out more at

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