Having spent a lot of time over the years in Customer Experience/Support worlds, you get used to a certain vibe about customers..

 Some of it comes with the territory given that most interactions are about problems, it’s an easy trap to fall into. Among teams and leadership, there’s a common phrase that shouldn’t be acceptable, but is so normal as to not even be noticed. The word is deflection, which should become known as the D-word.

As our MBA/quantitative overlords have taught us, we need to maximize our KPIs and be as efficient as possible. CX is, after all, a cost center. While every business needs to be financially healthy, the limits of human attention mean that the focus on one factor comes at the expense of another. When looking right, it’s impossible to look left.

While easy to understand, a very important issue arises when the “other factor” in question is your brands customers. Put simply, customers are never the other factor. For a brand, they are, and will always be, THE FACTOR. In our hyper competitive world, every brand faces a vast sea, AKA the Internet, of formidable competitors. These competitors are focusing both their vision and ad dollars squarely on your customers. In our hyper competitive markets, customers are the queens and kings we must serve. The days of customer lockin, for most, is a thing of the past. With all the flexibility and options e-commerce brings, 61% of customers leaving a brand after a single bad experience.

In this world, customers aren’t there to be deflected, but loved.

In this new world, your customers experience is everything. With experience at the center, CX teams need to evolve from their roots as a cost center for brands to remain competitive. Clever marketing and a compelling product will get the first sale, but do so at a tremendous cost. After that first moment, customers will still leave if their experience doesn’t meet or exceed their expectations. Experience, and the CX teams that drive it, are the key to making first timer customers into happy committed ones. CX is the key to driving your customers LTV.

So the D-word. As a generic term, to deflect in CX is simply to handle the issue without an agent. In the best of all worlds, it’s a effortless self service experience. Our world is often not that perfect.

Some of the first deflections were auto attendant voice systems. These began with the blessing of “press zero for the operator”. After we all got trained to jump the gate, that useful option was removed. The cost savings that they’d hoped for, and were promised, weren’t realized because they’d invested in a worse experience.

In the deflection mindset, there’s an adversarial assumption arout the relationship between CX and the customers that pay their bills. Customers “consume resources” when they ask for help. Since the company has the money, any money spent on support is eroding the profit dollars. Keep call times down, hire inexpensive people and save money. Use deflection, save money. Credit instead of refund, save money. Businesses exist to make money, so all of these points are easily defended. These are simply orthodoxy in mercenary capitalism, not heresy.

As a customer, too many deflections save the company money at the expense of your time and sanity. Infuriating call trees, Bots that don’t understand my question, people that can’t answer my question, or lack the authority to do anything. All of these things are simply bad customer experiences. We’ve all been there, putting our phone number into yet another system, or answering the same question for the third time, only to go onto no good resolution. When each of us have our customer hats on, we think the same thing. It starts with F.

Most deflections make us feel, borrowing the phrase, othered. Humans are hypersocial as a species. We can feel embraced by a group, or cast out. That feeling is to be othered. When deflected, we certainly don’t feel love. Hearts that don’t feel loved, go wandering.

In our hyper competitive market, there’s always another cute brand that’s promising us that they’ll love us, if they get the chance. The grass is always greener and all. 61% of the time, we swipe right on the new brand. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. But what you know as a person is that you ‘stuck it’ to the brand that you trusted, and they failed. Moving on is almost a moral issue.

This may be squishy, so here’s a translation of this argument for MBA/Spock/Robots – The Customer Acquisition Cost or Return on Ad Spend (CAC/ROAS) dollars to get a new customer is now gone. Spent. Facebook, Google, agencies or whomever got their money, and now the customer that trusted us, and their money is gone. As the brand that tried so hard to win that customer’s attention with a great product, clever marketing and ad dollars, has now chased them off with our efficient deflections.

Does that sound like a plan for building a great brand. Will this efficiency build a community of customers that love you? All of this is bad. Bad for customers, bad for the brand and bad for the team. The worst part is this last point.

While one customers bad experience is ‘only one’ customer, and financial quarters will come and go, a negative outlook in your culture is the curse that grows. Great CX teams want to help people, and to not help leaves scar tissue.

In any culture, a tone of communications will be established. Norms will be established. Expectations will be established. We know by the easiest math possible, that brands exist based on the dollars their customers chosen to give them. Our brands live on the good graces and generosity of our customers. While they’ll need help with our stuff from time to time, and yes some of them may be under informed, it’s nearly always the case that our brand isn’t our customers entire life. They have lives to live and stuff to do. At the moment that they reach out for help, all of that is on hold. Their lives are paused for the time they’re reaching out for help. At that moment they need our help to make the thing that they paid us for, work. Not an unreasonable ask.

While this won’t venture into the world of politics, it’s clear that every American can see a growing issue with people thinking other people are bad. The great divide in our culture where we don’t think of others a different, but as wrong. We’ve all gotten more comfortable being dismissive. Talking about “them”, whoever the them happens to be. We all begin to believe, unwittingly, that the people in a group, the other, are all them same, and it rarely seems to be about good things. The individual realities of people of all kinds are just that, the individual reality of a person. You, me, our folks, kids or the family next door. We absolutely have commonalities, but we also have important and wonderful differences. The big demographic things are easy, but they rarely get to more than a fraction of who each of us are. This is all to say that things, ideas, that hurt our capacity to understand a person as an individual, starts us on a very slippery slope.

In our highly technical age, serving thousands or hundreds of thousands of customers, through many channels, on countless products, it’s simply impossible to understand each individual. That’s understood. This is why the cultural impact within your business of ‘deflection’ is so bad. In one turn of phrase, it puts the customer in a place that “others” them. It prioritizes a KPI over your customer’s humanity. In doing this, more than anything else, it hurts your team, both spiritually and practically. While you can bonus people on a KPI to ‘hit a number’, if it’s at the expense of a customer, your team knows that. In customer service, there’s no way around knowing that customers are people, real live human beings. CX, more than anyone but sales people, have the live with the conflict of ‘deflection’. It helps the KPIs, but often hurts their customers. Deflection, and other such ideas, establishes the us and them. With it, the erosive culture of othering sets in as a norm.

While it’s hard to admit, as customers ourselves, we’ve all been there. So there’s the argument, the D-Word is pejorative, a curse that implicitly others the customers we should love. It provides an easy phrase wrapped up with a plausible excuse to mistreat the people that your brand should never mistreat. Your customers.