Deflection is a Dirty Word

posted by Brian J. Curran

Words Matter. Words matter even more when you are in the midst of a transformation and want to get everyone aligned around key themes. Of course, the theme that I am referring to is around becoming a customer centric organization and embracing empathy as a key ingredient of that transformation. As Customer Care Leaders, you are the catalyst and voice for a lot of these transformations.

So let’s pretend for a moment that you are practicing empathy and now wearing your customer’s shoes and you are sitting in a meeting or at a conference. Ok, is everyone in the proper frame of mind?

Now, how would you react if I said that my goal was to deflect your incoming call or email? How many of you awoke this morning hoping that you would be deflected by someone before your day ended? Doesn't sound like a very positive experience to me? Sounds like rejection to me.

So let’s look at Merriam – Webster’s definition of the word.


  verb de·flect \di-ˈflekt, dē-\

: to cause (something that is moving) to change direction

: to hit something and suddenly change direction

: to keep (something, such as a question) from affecting or being directed at a person or thing

This doesn't sound like something that I want to do to customers. If you are like most companies, you are spending an inordinate amount of money to attract and retain customers and deflecting them after all of that investment doesn't seem to make business sense at all.

So why did we start using the word deflection and how did it become so invasive in the customer care / service vocabulary? Like most misguided strategy or language, it started with some form of executive edict to drastically change something in our business without preview to the long term effect of this change. In the case of deflection, I can assume that someone looked at the expenses associated with servicing customers and determined that this expense needed to be lowered. No one in their right mind would say to just abandon these customers and refuse to service them so the best alternative was to determine how to service these customers but at a reduced cost. To this, I say Bravo ! There is nothing wrong with being both effective and efficient in the way we service our customers. What is wrong is thinking about this strategy as a blunt instrument. Reduce the calls, emails or any other assisted service and replace it with some form of low cost self service by forcing the customer to “right channel” and then measuring this short term coup as deflection.

Now I know by now that many of you are saying “No Brian, that is not what we are doing or what we meant” or “You are taking this out of context” and you may be right. But why call it deflection?

I think what we all mean is that we want to offer alternatives to the high cost of assisted service by offering other capabilities that not only meet the customer’s needs but in most cases even offer a more superior alternative to a phone call. We are not deflecting the call but merely offering a solution that is efficient, effective, effortless and empowering to the customer that they can use on their own terms. This is not deflection but merely another form of service elevated to take advantage of all the mediums and trends available in today’s society.

So how about using some more modern terms to reflect what we really want to say? Remember that words matter.

I know that many of you have developed or are in the process of developing much more sophisticated approaches to delivering compelling service to your customers that drives stickiness and advocacy. These sophisticated approaches determine who the customer is, the context of the customer’s situation and the most appropriate way to provide the experience and solution that best fits the moment and the customer’s needs both at a functional and emotional way. Avant-garde strategy such as these cannot be measured by a Neanderthal like term that only talks about reduction. This is about matching the delivery of a tailored experience to the desired attitudinal, behavioral and financial outcomes associated with that experience.

For instance, you may be measuring attitudes such as satisfaction or willingness to promote or behaviors such as frequency of purchase and/or brand mentions. You may be even measuring the correlation of these attitudes and behaviors to financial results such as traffic, conversion rate, AHT etc.

But what if you combined the types of customers (segments) that you are engaging, the situation governing the engagement (journey moment, location etc.), the medium used to engage the customer (self, assisted, community etc.) along with the outcomes (attitudes, behaviors, results) and built a matrix that showed which capability was most effective and efficient and then determined where to invest? Maybe the phone call works best in a complex situation for baby boomers during normal business hours and the self service knowledge based question and answer works best for product support for millennials at 2 in the morning. I am not deflecting the customer but merely matching the capabilities of my brand to my customers in the most relevant way possible.

So let’s come up with a new name. I choose RELEVANCY. Did I offer the right capability, at the right time to the right person and did it offer a value equation that both served the customer and the brand in a long term valuable (LTV) way. Not as simple as saying that our phone calls went down and our self service went up but much more revealing in the long run.

Look for more conversations about how to measure this in the near future. I hope to hear lots of opinions on this subject matter and meet many of you as I am traveling around the globe. You will recognize me immediately as the guy having the allergic reaction to someone touting their deflection strategy.

Originally posted on LinkedIn