Stop Feeding Your Customers Air Sandwiches

Published: May 05, 2017
Author: Erin Van Remortel


What? Have you never heard of an “air sandwich”? In my glorious teen years, my father would ask me why I (insert stupid action or irresponsible choice). Inevitably I would skirt around the question and provide a well thought out non-answer. To which my father would respond: “That’s nothing but an air sandwich”.

An air sandwich defined literally is (of course) two pieces of bread with no filling. In my case, this translated to an explanation with a beginning and an end, but no substance in between. A non-answer. In the case of customer experience, an air sandwich is a strategy, solution, enhancement or process improvement that has purpose and good intent … but little to no impact on your customers’ experience. It’s missing the stuff that really matters.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to avoid feeding your customers air sandwiches:

  1. Listen to your customers — listen well, listen often and listen across channels. Capturing feedback via surveys is good, and it’s definitely better than nothing. But it’s likely that there’s a goldmine of customer feedback available in channels across your business. Calls, chats, emails, complaints, social media — each of these should be a listening post. You might have additional ways customers are interacting with you. Take inventory and listen up!
  2. Practice connected listening to understand customer interactions and how and why channel hopping occurs. If you received a survey with a negative comment about an issue that has taken months to resolve, use your cross-channel listening to understand what happened. Your customer does not want to have to explain it all over again when you close the loop with them.
  3. Analyze feedback to understand what’s causing the most pain for your customers and fix it. Really fix it. Don’t jump to conclusions or solutions that won’t address your customers’ needs or deliver the greatest impact.

This third tip cannot be overlooked. An air sandwich can still happen if you do #1 and #2, but don’t analyze the data, identify the most frequently discussed issues and use these insights to design your solution, improvement or enhancement.

Some companies have implemented live chat solutions on websites to increase cost efficiency and make customers’ lives that little bit easier — unfortunately this can be a big source of air sandwiches. Customers can be left unsatisfied and frustrated when these solutions are set up without the necessary knowledgebase, systems access and training in place to function effectively. The result of this could look like this:

Customer: Hello.

Chat rep: Hello Mr. Customer, how can I help you today?

Customer: I made a payment on my account #123456789 last week, but yesterday I received an email saying my account is past due. Is this correct?

Chat rep: I am sorry you are experiencing issues Mr. Customer. I will be glad to review your account and see what I can do to resolve your issue. I have limited visibility of your account, but from what I can see it’s up to date.

Customer: So I can ignore the email?

Chat rep: I would suggest you contact Financial Services. They can check the full account status for you. Call them on 1-800-555-5555.

Customer: OK thanks.

Chat rep: You’re welcome! Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Customer: No.

Chat rep: Thank you for using the Live Chat.

Sound familiar? This customer was just fed an air sandwich. His time was wasted and now he has to pick up the phone and call a different department — and the company is paying for two interactions instead of just one.

If this company had analyzed the call data (and any other sources related to billing i.e. tickets or emails or chats), it could have understood the top reasons for calls and determined how to handle them effectively. If your chat reps need to access customer accounts so they can solve these kinds of issues — you need to put that in place. Or if you don’t want your chat reps to handle this type of request for whatever reason, you have to make your customers aware of what they can and can’t accomplish via your live chat.

Bottom line: Improvements that do not improve your customers’ experiences are not actually improvements. They are air sandwiches.

Erin Van Remortel is a champion for the customer, CX thought leader and practitioner at Verizon.  She is a certified Customer Experience Professional (CXPA) and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. Erin will be speaking at Gainsight Pulse in Oakland, C.A on May 9, 2017, on how you can use the voice of the customer to accelerate customer success.

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