Vocabulary is Important

Vocabulary is important!  I propose there are three words we should eliminate from our service and support vocabulary: deflection, avoidance, and consumption.  These three concepts are very self-centered; they reflect a vendor-centric perspective, not a customer-centric view.

“Deflect” and “avoid” are often used when discussing the value of self-service, as if deflecting and avoiding our customers is the ultimate goal. This reflects an unenlightened view of what customer service and support should be focused on, as well as a misguided view of what self-service is all about. For years, the Consortium for Service Innovation has been advancing the idea that self-service is a customer engagement strategy. This conversation was instigated by Brad Smith (President of the Consortium’s Board of Directors) based on his analysis of the correlation between self-service use and customer retention and net promoter scores.

If we think about self-service as a customer engagement strategy and not an avoidance or deflection strategy, it promotes decisions that are focused on maximizing customer value realization from our products and services.  If we can offer those we serve the ability to find resolutions to their issues in less time and effort than it takes to open a case, we are contributing to their success and productivity.   Self-service is a customer engagement strategy; it enables customers to resolve way more issues than they would ever open a case for, and it resolves some issues they would have opened a case for.  Self-service is an excellent way to improve our customer’s success and productivity while at the same time reducing our cost. Done right it is win-win situation – not an avoidance or deflection situation.  

Self-service is a customer engagement strategy; it enables customers to resolve way more issues than they would ever open a case for, and it resolves some issues they would have opened a case for.

– Greg Oxton

Consumption is another word and concept that has no place in a service and support environment. McDonald’s (fast food), Philip Morris (cigarettes), and most recently, Purdue Pharma (opioids) are examples of highly successful consumption strategies that maximize the company’s revenue and profitability with total disregard for the health and well-being of their customers. A consumption strategy focuses on how we get our customers to use as much of our product as possible without regard for the customers’ health, productivity, or success.

The three examples listed above are extreme cases where maximizing consumption of the product is not only known to be bad for the customer’s health, but in hundreds of thousands of situations, deadly.  Greed seems to override compassion or any degree of concern for the customer’s health. In a technology environment, or in service and support, the consequences are not so extreme. But the concept of promoting consumption is a vendor-centric strategy.

It may be interesting to know how much of our products or services our customers use, but only in the context of improving customer success and productivity.  Perhaps we could design the functions to take less time, or combine functions so the customer can get their work done using one function instead of three. In these scenarios, we’re technically reducing their consumption – but minimizing their effort and increasing their productivity and success!

Vocabulary is important. It influences our decision-making in subtle but powerful ways. The Consortium has defined service excellence as “maximizing customer realization of value from our products and services.” If we focus on customer engagement rather than deflection or avoidance, and if our mindset is about maximizing customer realization of value rather than maximizing consumption, we will be more likely to make decisions that positively impact customer health and success. This contributes to a positive brand image and sustainable customer relationships, which in turn drive revenue and profitability.

8 thoughts on “Vocabulary is Important

  1. Excellent article on the importance of vocabulary!
    Regarding deflection and avoidance, they have a negative connotation as well; politicians and CEOs (among others) are great at deflecting and avoiding pointed questions about pertinent issues and their performance.
    As a technical writer, I have been trained to write in a positive way, and not use negative terminology, as it can give users a view of our product that we don’t want them to have.

  2. I agree in principle that vocabulary is important. In looking at the words we use, the audience for our communication is paramount. For example, terminology used to increase sales and renewal revenue are fine- but not in client discussions.

    Likewise here, if the audience for s&s communication is an operations or staffing manager concerned with support case volume and related headcount, then deflection is a direct and easily understood word, and is likely better and more relevant than some cutesy phrase oriented on customer self service.

    If you don’t understand the audience, then the wholesale elimination of standard words like these is not important either.

    1. I agree the audience is important…. and one of the most important audiences that can influence customer success and productivity is the support agents/engineers. If they think the goal is case deflection/avoidance they will come up with clever ways to achieve that, many of which will have unintended negative consequences. For example, just increase hold times, make the case logging process more onerous or (as one company did) turn off the phones. That will deflect/avoid cases: goal achieved. But is that our intent?

      On the other hand, if the support staff is focused on reducing customer effort, increasing customer success and productivity they will come up with clever ways to do that. With a clear focus on customer success, it is hard to come up with a scenario that has unintended negative consequences. It’s the difference between an inside-out focus (the old model) vs an outside-in focus (emerging model). There is a good summary and examples here, http://customerthink.com/outside-in-vs-inside-out-thinking/ ).

  3. Vocabulary is important indeed! It is always a pleasure to read Greg’s perspective on these matters. He manages to explain his ideas in such a beautiful and explanatory way! Thank you!

  4. Vocabulary is Important!! It has cultural reference too. In our S&S environment ‘technote’ had been such a prevailing word. It mistook ‘technote’ for KBs. It came from Technical Writing and Product Expert model of information management. It directly influenced decisions related to creating and reusing tech support knowledge. Consequently, the content health problems. From technote to demand-driven and contextual knowledge is a change journey. Not surprised, nowhere in any of the academy’s KCS publications I ever found the word ‘deflection’.

  5. As someone who has always railed against the ‘avoidance’ or ‘deflection’, as the issue did occur for the customer, I do like the engagement concept for self-service, as it implies that there is a choice for the customer. I realize that this isn’t always true, but it gets the thinking going where it should be.

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