Perfecting the Art of Problem Resolution
By Lior Arussy
for the perfect customer service process is a never ending pursuit of
companies. Executives are
searching for the perfect process that will eliminate all problems,
misunderstandings and by extension, customer complaints.
Technologies and methods are being heavily deployed in the name
of the perfect process and Six Sigma is steadily finding its place
into customer service organizations.
With the help of experts, customer service professionals are
attempting to create the perfect service model that will eliminate
commend the intentions behind these efforts, but I have serious
reservations about their potential for success.
While I am convinced that each organization has process
inefficiencies that can be improved and optimized, the notion that one
perfect process will eliminate all upset customers and complaints is a
fallacy. A similar
misguided belief is that all customers are alike and their inquiries
predictable, which would enable organizations to treat customers in a
delightful manner and solve their inquiries on the first call.
Reality, however, is much different.
production processes, where Six Sigma and other efficiency models work
well, customer service is fundamentally different.
In production processes there is a high degree of
predictability regarding the expected input and output, and as such,
optimizing processes makes sense to lower error rates.
In customer services, we deal with the volatile emotions of
humans, not the cold logic of machines. Our ability to predict inputs
(such as the type of calls to come next, the customer’s expected
mood and the type of issues to be raised) is significantly lower than
those of manufacturing processes.
I am in full agreement that any process that does not require
human involvement is a great candidate for optimization.
When customers are involved, the reality is radically
different. When speaking with Six Sigma back belt experts I often ask
how they deal with exceptions to which, I receive a variety of
answers. The closest to a universal answer is generally “we reject
incumbent on customer service professionals not to adopt this
philosophy in dealing with disgruntled customers. We
simply cannot declare that each irate customer is “a reject”
(however tempting that may be). Over
the course of my career, I have found that of the many efficiency
efforts that have taken place, only a small minority has positively
impacted the customer service organization. The current crop of
efficiency initiatives is not much better.
pursuit of perfection, companies often neglect to plan for potential
problems. Problems and
errors cannot be eliminated. They
are part of the game. As
human involvement grows, the error margin will inevitably increase.
The challenge is not trying to perfect that which cannot be
perfected, but to design for ideal problem handling.
Organizations need to learn how not to treat these problems as
exceptions to the rule, but rather embrace these exceptions and create
special processes to deal with them and still delight the customers.
An ideal problem resolution process will delight customers to
such an extent that they will look forward to sharing their problems
with the organization in the future.
an ideal problem resolution process should include the following
Assume that the customer complaint might actually
be valid. We often
identify an unspoken belief among customer service professionals
that customer disappointments and frustrations are unwarranted. We
need to accept that even our great companies make mistakes that
will inconvenience our customers.
We need to understand those areas where mistakes or
exceptions may occur and educate our service staff to recognize
them and act accordingly.
Exceptions are part of the business.
Customers who experience them are still good customers and
should be treated with respect and not as outcasts who abuse our
products and services.
Take responsibility. This
demonstrates to customers that you take full ownership of the
problem. The common
apologetic response does not resonate with customers or compensate
for taking full responsibility of the problem.
Taking ownership is paramount for the customer to see that
his issue is not being treated as an exception to the rule but as
a core part of the rule itself.
Have a sense of urgency.
Your problem resolution process should emphasize speed to
problem resolution. A
clear sense of urgency often demonstrates to customers that their
issues matter to you. This
also demonstrates a true sense of responsibility.
Compensate, don’t just apologize. Customers
expect more than mere apologies and expect you to take additional
responsibility for their problems. Compensation for wrongdoing
needs to be proportionate to the value of the product and the
damage caused to customers. Expensive
compensation is unnecessary, but a monetary demonstration of
problem ownership will go a long way with the customer.
Inform relevant personnel.
Ensure that all relevant individuals in the organization
are informed about the consequences of their actions and suggest
remedies to prevent negative incidents from happening again.
Follow up. Make
sure that the customer is satisfied with the service and remedy.
An ideal follow up will demonstrate that the company is interested
in the customer’s issue, not getting him off the phone as soon
as possible. Companies
should also inform customers about any remedies taken to prevent
their issues from reoccurring. Beyond resolving the original
problem, this action will demonstrate to customers that their
problems will lead to better future performance.
Recognize the next time a customer does business
with you. Make sure
that employees who serve customers for a second time demonstrate
extra sensitivity and knowledge of past history.
in which an organization handles customer problems and complaints is
indicative of the type of relationship that they want to have with
their customers. Customer
loyalty and the willingness to provide repeat business is determined
by the manner in which organizations behave during contentious
moments. By acting evasively and not providing clear problem
resolution, an organization demonstrates a lack of commitment towards
the customer relationship. On the other hand, a company that takes
ownership of the problem and provides a decisive and clear response
demonstrates a long-term commitment to the customer.
Customer commitment to buy the company’s products and come
back for more while evangelizing to others is directly linked to the
quality of problem resolution process.
Research shows that disgruntled customers who were treated well
ultimately became more loyal to the company then customers who did not
experience problems. The
reason is that once these relationships were tested, the companies
proved themselves willing, caring and loyal to their customers.
will forgive companies’ mistakes as long as the companies
demonstrate responsibility, ownership and commitment.
Ensuring a delightful problem resolution process is a major
testing point for every company and determines the future of their
customer relationships. So stop
over processing your rule and start creating delightful exceptions to
that rule. Passing this
customer relationship test is worth the effort.
Start by accepting that problems happen and that exceptions are
an integral part of the business.
Now design excellence in problem resolution!
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