The cringeworthy customer service approach to inquiries that I call “bring me back the witch’s broomstick” is a negative marker to look for at the start of any customer experience turnaround initiative.
The witch’s broomstick approach is one of the ultimate sins of customer support. It’s a method for avoiding work while simulating helpfulness, and it’s one of the clearest signs I know of a company that’s customer-antagonistic (or at least customer-agnostic): You (or your company’s scripts) act like the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy demanded something he wasn’t prepared to provide (help getting back to Kansas): he sent her off on a long, presumably impossible quest before he’d offer his assistance.
The witch’s broomstick scenario often starts with a perfectly simple, congenial query from a customer…
…perhaps from a bride-to-be:
I am only finding bright-white wedding veils in this season’s offering in your online store. Is it still possible to get cream-white?
…or from an environmentally conscious pet food shopper:
Quick question: is there a way to have my cat’s and my dog’s food orders bundled so they use less packaging? (I won’t tell my cat if you don’t, so she doesn’t resent the proximity to the food of those clearly inferior canines.)
…or even, I like to imagine, from a sadomasochistic dodgeball enthusiast:
I note that you’re only currently showing the “candy red” color of dodgeball for sale. I prefer the “deep red” traditional color that more closely resembles the lovely bruise from a dead-on dodgeball bullseye. Do you know when “deep red” dodgeballs will again be available?
Regardless of the specifics of the inquiry—whether it relates to wedding veils, pet food, or even dodgeballs– the response from customer service will be the same. It won’t be the customized, helpful, possibly humorous (in the case of how you should respond to the dodgeball lunatic) response that is called for. Rather it will be the runaround—a generic runaround that can be applied, equally ineffectively, to most any inquiry:
We are sorry to hear about this. While I reviewed your account and found no indication of a problem, we will need to review your query from a technical standpoint. In order to assist the investigation, please provide the following:
URL(s) for the pages in question
Screenshot in full demonstrating the issue and error at your end.
How you heard about the product in question.
Permission to review your account.
Admittedly, you do sometimes need particular pieces of data to be able to provide effective support. This isn’t what I’m talking about. The witch’s broomstick is when you ask the customer to do extra work that you, the CSR, could be doing for them, or that doesn’t even need to be done in the first place.
(To be completely fair and clear, the witch’s broomstick may not be, at its root, any one CSR’s fault. More often than not, the “witch’s broomstick” approach has been dictated from higher up, or built into a company’s scripting.)
Email is a hotbed (coolbed?) of this approach from overworked or thoughtless customer service operations. When broomstick abuse is indulged in, the asynchronous nature of email is a particular problem; when the customer receiving a broomstick-style email finally comes back with the broomstick (to the wizard’s/CSR’s surprise), they may not even then respond for another several hours.
This is why some organizations have moved away from the email approach and moved to something closer to real time. As I noted some time ago in my coverage of Google support, the new paradigm at some forward-thinking companies is that the inquiry will be handled now, via messaging, chat, or videochat, so that any missing pieces can be reviewed and compensated for in more or less real time, without any frustrating back and forth. Whether or not your organization takes this approach, make sure you’re not abusing whatever system you’re using rather than sending poor Dorothy off on a fruitless quest.