Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Making your customer your priority – customer problem resolution as a core due diligence goal

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on July 11, 2011

I have written a number of times about customers and customer relations management, (see for example:

Repeat Customers Are Our Most Important Product,
Making Change in the Customer Experience Good, and How Well-Intended Change Can Be Anything But,
• And about a dozen more.

And I turn back to this core set of issues again with this blog posting, and here my focus is on exception handing and problem resolution. In this, it should be taken as a given that effective customer relations management, whether computer and database supported or not, can be made more effective and for both customer and business. The incidence rate of problems arising can be limited. But with time, and no matter how carefully you set up, manage, monitor and evolve your processes, problems will happen. Processes will at least occasionally break down. Customers will be dissatisfied and with reason. This posting is about identifying those breakdowns in ongoing practices and in identifying new and emerging problems early, and managing them rapidly and smoothly, and it is about learning from all of this to better avoid repeats.

• When a customer tells you that they are having a problem, they are always having a real problem.

This is the single most important point I could make on the general topic of customer relations management and about sales and the business transaction process, and I add that it should be taken as an axiomatic assumption. If an online form or user-oriented screen has the capability for customers to successfully complete a transaction, but a customer cannot find the information they need to do so and meet their due diligence needs in the process, that form or screen is not going to work for them. They have a very genuine problem. If a phone-based or online chat or other system breaks down for the customer from their perspective, that is a very genuine problem.

• Every customer problem and every difficulty or challenge that employees encounter in meeting customer needs should be tracked, and both as individual events and in identification of emerging patterns.
• This data should all be sent to the appropriate teams responsible for managing and maintaining supporting systems (e.g. online forms and their context web pages) and with information on what the customer could not find that they needed.
• Any time a change is made in a system, with a supporting technology upgrade or a content reorganization and a change in web site information architecture, there is an opportunity for the creation of new and emergent problems too.
• And the basic principles I write of here apply to website and other online channels, and to phone-based systems (where among other things both the customer and the sales staff members are probably looking at screens.) The same basic principles apply to any potential point of contact between business and customer, and certainly where that point of contact is interactive and can become a point of sales.

And now I come to my second most important point, and if this is overlooked it in practice can become the most important one.

• If a customer has a problem, you as a sales person or member of customer support should take that seriously, but never, ever take it personally.

If the customer is upset, they are frustrated because they really do want to find a way to complete a transaction of importance to them and they want to complete that transaction with you and with your business. This is not about you. This is about helping the customer be the customer they want to be – a satisfied customer who would be willing and even happy to come back to your business again to do more business with you.

• Have a system in place for identifying problems and for escalating response, either to a specialist or to a supervisor.

If a customer asks to speak with a supervisor, always escalate to a supervisor. And with this I cite one of the commonest and most serious system flaws that customers encounter – and one of the most irksome. If a supervisor is not readily available to quickly escalate a problem to and the customer is simply put on endless hold, there in practice are no supervisors there. Tracking how long customers have to wait to speak with a supervisor is a crucial customer relations management performance metric. And this is where you can learn that all of the supervisors are locked up in meetings at the same time, and all are effectively off, all at once. Ideally, you would identify organization and process problems like this before they go live if you will, adversely impacting on your customers and front line sales and support staff. But at the very least learn from the potentially available feedback that you can capture and fill in the gaps that this feedback can bring to your attention.

As a final thought, the more effective your operational systems and processes, and the more effective you customer-facing resources, and the more effective your sales and support training, the lower the instance rate you will see in occurrence of customer problems. But problems will still happen, so set a dual goal of limiting their occurrence, but also of quickly resolving them when they do occur – and from learning something new from every single one.

• And find a way to reward your customers who help you to do better by sharing insight with you where you could specifically benefit from improvement. A customer who finds a problem in your system and tells you about it is showing you how to more effectively capture and retain market share and is helping you and your business to better succeed.

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