Case Deflection is Not a Sustainable Strategy

Recently I posted on how we define escalation, and the confusion it can cause based on context of use.  Deflection is another word that persists across the support and service industry that does not serve us well.  I only hear “deflection” used in the context of “how do we stop service requests from reaching our people,” and it is almost always used when talking about answering questions through self-service channels.  

When we talk about deflecting cases, we are reinforcing the idea that we want to avoid our customers in order to save money.  We are directly undermining the core principle that service and support organizations exist to help our customers be successful.  Deflection is sometimes used as an “easy” (I would argue “lazy”) approach to cost-cutting.  For example, to gain funding to launch a self-service portal, it is tempting to show executives that the up-front funding will be recovered by “deflecting” cases.  But over time, baselines for funding change as the self-service channel becomes operationalized.  When this occurs, departments again need to defend the budget for the cases still coming in to the support center.

Self-service portals, chatbots, live chat apps, communities, and/or live phones are all part of a robust customer engagement strategy.  No matter how good you get at answering known issues through self-service mechanisms, there will still be new issues to respond to in the support center.  Building a sustainable strategy around connecting people to content for known issues, and people to people for new issues – preferably in the channel best suited for the engagement – is a key initiative for forward-thinking service and support executives.

Building a sustainable strategy around connecting people to content for known issues, and people to people for new issues is a key initiative for forward-thinking executives.

As we engage customers more and more in different channels, we need to diversify how we look at the funding model to capture the costs and return for each interaction.  Changing the conversation to focus on a comprehensive look at customer engagement – not simply case deflection – is a shift that can change perception at all levels of an organization. 

See Greg Oxton’s post Vocabulary is Important for more thoughts on common but ultimately unhelpful language.

5 thoughts on “Case Deflection is Not a Sustainable Strategy

  1. Well said Matt! Over the years we’ve embraced the concept of Contact Redirection. It’s the concept of offering many channels for support interactions, not with the sole purpose of “deflecting” contacts or cases (human touch points), but directing them to the most efficient and cost effective channel.
    We’ve seen that when simply offering another channel for support it does not necessarily follow that other channels see a reduction in volume. What we’ve seen is actually a net increase in overall volume as customers who would otherwise not have reached out to receive service, actually begin doing so. And often a single customer hitting multiple touch points to resolve a single issue thus inflating the numbers.
    However the net positive is an increase in answered questions and more choice for customers on their interaction preference, which should benefit loyalty, Net Promoter, retention, and CSAT. People who prefer to call if the issue is urgent or important enough for to them will still call.
    Just a thought, but if we view our other channels as simply additional Tiers of support it comes down to how far down the ladder can we push positive interactions and issue resolution. Tier Zero being Issue Avoidance where proactively addressing product or service issues so they don’t become customer issues to begin with.

  2. Yes, exactly. Why *wouldn’t* you want to talk to your customers precisely when they need you most?! What a golden platter, what an opportunity.

    On the self-serving side, you get to play hero. On the humanitarian side, you unblock someone ASAP. Win win. If only we could leverage support calls as the business collateral that they really are. (Kind of like loans — that is, negative moneys — are the equity portfolio for banks.)

  3. The key though is that deflection does not mean avoiding. We are offering the customer a channel that is most appropriate to them to find a solution.

    The aim is not to shift everything to a self service solution but rather to make sure that if self service is achievable and appropriate then it is also going to be the channel that is easiest to access and friction-less in terms of effort. If there is a contact channel that is a “better” option than a direct phone call then that is also positioned.
    The cost impact of deflection and the expected benefits in terms of NPS, CSAT etc. all form part of any investment request. I don’t consider that to be a lazy approach however – just being aware of the audience and how decisions are made. Investment in an organization in terms of technology has many competing elements. Knowledge is a good place to spend it but we need to make the best case possible and part of that is by highlighting the deflection / avoidance and the associated potential cost benefit.

  4. Love this post Matt. For me it’s about REACH, ENGAGEMENT and LISTENING and understanding the complete balance sheet of your organizations budget… If marketing ran support, how much would they pay an agency for the kinda of highly specific, value proposition statements from customers vs. thinking of this as a ‘burdensome expense’ to service customer issues. #SupportIsMarketingIsSupport

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