Tag Archives: customer service

Never waste a good problem

I’ve always struggled with the notion that the mark of a great company is doing things right the first time every time.  First of all, it can’t be done.  Second, when things inevitably go wrong in that kind of culture, people often get upset, stressed out and too eager to find and punish the “guilty party.” That’s not exactly the kind of environment that fosters the experimentation and calculated risk-taking needed for continuous improvement and innovation.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t TRY to get it right the first time.  That would be idiotic. I also realize that the margin for error in some enterprises must be virtually zero. No one wants to learn how to fly a plane safer from a crash that kills hundreds of people.  Nevertheless, most businesses stand to gain a lot from realizing that perfection isn’t possible, and the most constructive thing to do is figure out how to never waste a good problem.

There’s Gold in those Mistakes
Companies obsessed with always getting it right the first time undervalue two huge opportunities. For starters, every miscue is a learning opportunity – a chance to pinpoint a root cause issue and improve a process that’s not working at peak performance.

Here’s another somewhat surprising benefit.  According to research conducted by the Technical Assistance Research Program (TARP), a customer who complains and is satisfied with the resolution is 30% more loyal than someone who doesn’t complain.  They’re 50% more loyal than a complainant who isn’t satisfied with how their complaint was handled. Now, here’s the real kicker.  Customers who complain and are satisfied with the resolution are 8% more loyal than if they had no problem in the first place.

Think about what that means.  Here are two big implications from the TARP research:

    1. Instead of blowing a fuse over a problem or a complaint, treat it like a gift because it offers a chance to fix a process and boost customer loyalty all at once.
    2. If you want to optimize the potential of unhappy customers, make it easy for people to complain. Even more, set up a mechanism to proactively pursue complaints. Instead of treating the customer service team as a tool to keep customers happy so they don’t bail out, think of them as an actual profit center that can increase operating performance and business results.

Change the Mindset – Change the Process
Getting the most from that approach starts with thinking differently about how customer service works with the rest of the organization. Making that shift requires a specified process for directing complaints immediately to the people who can get at the root cause of the problem.  If complaints are handled as isolated incidents, and the main goal is merely making people happy, you could wind up with a lot of pricey fixes that never go away. Most organizations understand that premise instinctively, yet the mechanisms for turning complaints into systemic improvements is often sluggish and convoluted, and laced with tension and friction.

Put Your HEART in Service
Another important factor in making the most out of complaints is how they are handled with the customer.  We advocate the HEART method:

  • Hear the customer out
  • Empathize by expressing understanding and appreciation for how they feel
  • Apologize for the problem
  • Reassure them that you will take care of the matter, and tell them what you’re going to do
  • Take responsibility for resolving the issue quickly, and don’t transfer the call unless it’s unavoidable

One way to embrace the value of problems and complaints is to think of them as a feeder source for a systematic continuous improvement process that includes input from both customers and employees that you actively seek on a routine basis.

Just like customers, employees face problems that often turn into complaints, and they respond in a variety of ways.  Sometimes they just suck it up, and say what the hell – that’s par for the course.  Sometimes, they find work-arounds and short-cuts to circumvent the core problem because it’s easier and faster than trying to go through the red tape of getting it fixed systemically.

If you want employees and customers to come forward with problems and complaints that lead to sustainable root-cause solutions on a regular basis, you need to make improvement part of everyday operations.  It must be an imbedded, routine process, and you need to treat complaints and problems as the essential “fuel” to make it run.

So set your anxiety aside and “love” your problems. You’ll get a lot more input and a lot more improvement a lot more quickly – not to mention a lot less complaining about complaints.

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Want to learn more about a systemic approach to help you think outside the employee suggestion box? Check out our free webinar. Then give us a call and we’ll show you how to get employees tuned in, turned on and eager to go above and beyond.

So can you or can’t you?

The inside-outside disconnect strikes again! Over the July 4th holiday, I was at my mother’s house reading the Chicago Sun-Times. Jumping off the page in a consumer complaint column called “The Fixer” was a classic story of how organizations send absurdly mixed signals to employees and customers.

Are you being clear with your customers?
Are you being clear with your customers?

The woman with the complaint explained that her aunt borrowed her car and drove out on the Indiana toll road. Her aunt didn’t know there was an I-PASS transponder in the car, so she paid the $3.50 toll in the cash lane. The woman found out later that they also had deducted her I-PASS account for the toll, so it was paid twice.

You can probably guess what happened when she called customer service to get her account credited for the double payment. “We can’t do that,” she was told. As the woman explained in her letter, the issue wasn’t the money – but the principle that made her mad. The tollway system is quick to catch violators through monitoring equipment and late fees, she said, “but they won’t credit a customer when credit is due.”

To top it off, the customer rep compounded the woman’s upset by citing other examples of when they WON’T credit customer accounts. Clearly, the rep’s main objective was to defend her position, not to address the customer’s concerns.

Here’s where the story gets juicy – and oh so classic.
The columnist contacted the Illinois Tollway spokesperson about the complaint. After that call, the Illinois people contacted their Indiana counterparts, and guess what? They were able to put the money back into the woman’s account. All of a sudden, the “can’t” turned to a “can,” which raises a bunch of curious questions:

  • Did the customer rep get in trouble for not giving the woman the credit she wanted? Did that person’s boss get called on the carpet for the rep’s action?
  • Now that the decision was overturned, are reps supposed to say “yes” or “no” the next time a customer asks for credit?
  • If a customer wants to talk with someone responsive, should they call the public relations department instead of customer service? Or do they have to call “The Fixer” to get satisfaction?
  • Is Illinois going to change its no-credit policy (assuming they have one), or was this a one-off response to a potentially embarrassing public relations problem?
  • How often do the customer service manager and the public relations people confer to make sure they’re on the same page?

And the list goes on …

What can customers expect from your company?
Setting aside potentially good reasons for not issuing the credit (e.g., Did she have a receipt to prove her aunt paid the toll?) – it’s HOW complaints are handled that matters as much the resolution. The International Customer Satisfaction Association has identified the following expectations that customers have for product/service performance and how their complaints are handled:

  • Reliability
  • Prompt attention
  • Solutions
  • Information
  • Value
  • Consistency
  • Competence
  • Empathy
  • Courtesy and friendliness
  • Honesty and trustworthiness

Beyond meeting those expectations, here’s a quick and memorable set of guidelines for taking the “HEAT” out of customer complaints:

  • Hear the customer out
  • Empathize with the person’s situation and feelings
  • Apologize if appropriate
  • Take responsibility for corrective action

To make any kind of customer communication work well, though, it has to start with the internal and the external folks being in synch with one another. Otherwise, it leaves everyone confused about what to do and what to expect – inside and out.

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