Monday, September 8, 2014

The Problem Solving Process - Responding to a Customer's Issue

The previous several posts have focused on identifying and resolving systemic problems that may be shared by a large number of customers.   This post will focus on responding to individual customer problemsthat is, the tactical component of CX Problem Solving.

Twitter, Facebook, Amazon reviews, and a myriad of other sites available for customers to socialize their good and bad experiences with a companys products and services means the days of covering up the damage and limiting the exposure to a handful of people are long gone.  Consider that a conventional rule of thumb is that a satisfied customer will generally directly tell two acquaintances about her positive experience, while a customer whos less than impressed with the company will directly tell six people about how disappointed, mad, or frustrated they were with what they perceived to be a lousy experience.  Tweeting about the same bad experience can potentially reach several thousand potential and current customers of that companythe potential reach of this indirectventingis reason enough to establish a formal follow-up approach for each and every customer who submits a problem.

There are generally three formal channels that a customer can use to express their dissatisfaction to the organization
1) a telephone call to either the company itself, or to the retailer from whom they purchased the product (beware that the majority of complaints submitted to the retail channel rarely make their way to a head office, and as a result, company management may be understating the extent of their customer experience issues);
2) increasingly, particularly among younger customers, venting via an e-mail or an online form on the companys website is the preferred method;
3) post-purchase or transaction surveys may also contain customer complaints.  Regardless of the means used, heres a suggested approach to handling a customer issue courtesy of John Goodman in his book, Strategic Customer Service (1); Ive modified it somewhat with my own spin
Step 1 - Identify the Customers Key Issues
The recipient of the customers communication may be a customer service representative (for telephone or digital submissions), or a member of the market research staff (for a complaint mentioned in a survey).  The companys designated respondent should provide a timely reply (i.e. within a couple of days maximum of receiving the complaint)  and begin, as Goodman suggests, by asking the customer, What can I do to help you?”  At this point, the company representative must be guided by a company policy clearly stating the latitude he or she has in providing an appeasement to the client.  
Step 2 - Negotiate an Agreement
Using the companys appeasement policy as a guide, the companys representative may either be able to remedy the customers problem right on the spot, or if the customers desired resolution goes beyond  the policy, the representative will need to escalate the issue to a manager.
Step 3 - Provide Next Steps, and Follow-up with the Customer to Confirm Satisfaction
While some organizations take comfort in providing the customer with a remedy, few go the extra step to gather feedback and confirm satisfaction after the appeasement is provided.  This is strongly recommended for two reasons: 1) youll want to make sure the problem is fully resolved and that any collateral damagehas also been addressed; 2) such a follow-up will go far in recovering the goodwill that may have been lost as a result of the problem. This follow-up can take the form of a short survey, or a personal call from a company representative.  Customers experiencing a significant problem (i.e. one resulting in inconvenience, or out of pocket expenses) may warrant a follow-up telephone call directly from a member of the company’s senior management.
Step 4 - Analyze the Problem / Identify Trends / Design a Permanent Solution
This is the point at which the tactical customer resolution processes intersects with the strategic problem prevention and process design process.  Recall from our previous post referencing Strategic Customer Service,...Designing a permanent solution is a strategic one.  This is because youll be making a couple of choices, with each having implications for how to use your organizations resources.  Based on customer feedback (i.e. surveys, observation, interviews, etc.), youll want to form a hypothesis  for a potential permanent solution to your CX problem.  In many cases, this solution will take the form of either a design for a new process, or a re-design of an existing approach.
Up to this point, we’ve focused on a few tactical items as part of the development of an initial foundation for our customer experience initiative.  Beginning with the next post, we’ll recap the activities completed to date, and begin our transition to discussing the various strategic elements associated with CX.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Problem Solving Process - Step 4: Designing a Solution

Based on customer feedback (i.e. surveys, observation, interviews, etc.), you’ll want to form a hypothesis  for a potential permanent solution to your CX problem.  In many cases, this solution will take the form of either a design for a new process, or a re-design of an existing approach.  In either scenario, as alluded to in the previous post, and discussed in John A. Goodman’s excellent book, Strategic Customer Service (1), the decision to develop a permanent solution is a strategic one.  This is because you’ll be making a couple of choices, with each having implications for how to use your organization’s resources.  

The first choice is simply around whether or not to develop and implement a permanent solution.  In this case, the questions to ask are: 1) what’s the likely outcome of not addressing this problem and foregoing a permanent solution?  In the majority of cases, continuing to tolerate the problem will result in both customer and employee dissatisfaction; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  2) if we develop a permanent solution, what will be the effect on the company’s related resources?  These resources are typically budget and staff time, and this is where completing a sound financial analysis is important.  The financial implications of CX are critical, and they’ll be explored in more detail in an upcoming post.

Assuming the organization decides to develop a permanent solution, the second strategic choice revolves around the definition of the solution itself.  As mentioned earlier, in many cases, the solution involves the design of a new process, or the tweaking of an existing one.  While there may be instances where the solution to a customer dissatisfaction requires investments in new technologies (e.g. mobile apps, databases), or employee training and education, for the purposes of this illustration, we’ll focus on process design and discuss a couple of useful tools to aid in their development.

In 101 Design Methods(2), by Vijay Kumar, the Concept Scenario is presented as a “…series of sketches, illustrations, or photo collages used to express how that concept (i.e. solution) will be experienced by customers in proposed situations.”  Kumar goes on to say, “…Concept Scenarios work like an early field test…scenarios communicate ideas well and support (team) conversations.”  Kumar lays out how Concept Scenarios can be developed:

  1. Select concepts for scenario making.  As an example, in the proposed solution for our hypothetical retail situation, the team might imagine what a new floor plan for the cashier area might look like and develop a concept around how customers will experience it.
  2. Imagine the people involved and the context.  Imagine the key interactions or interactions that you want to show as a strong demonstration of the selected concept.
  3. Illustrate the scenarios.  Make a series of illustrations to show the imagined situations.  A suggested approach for developing the illustrations is to use Post-It notes with each component of the process depicted on an individual note (e.g. customer begins to approach the cashier area).
  4. Discuss the scenarios and build on the concepts.  Discuss how the concept is adding value to the imagined situation - its users and the context. 

Process mapping is a second tool that can be quite helpful in designing a well defined customer experience transaction.  However, as discussed in an article on the Process Excellence Network’s website (3), there are three common mistakes often associated with those new to process mapping…

  1. Applying process mapping on inappropriate types of processes.  Most organizations' business operation can be categorized into three types of processes: transformational processes, transactional processes and decision-making processes.  Transformational processes are most notably applicable in a manufacturing setting where inputs are “transformed” into specific outputs.  Transactional processes refer to the interactions of different input parties where they seek to generate specific outcomes. Call centre support and most sales activities are examples of transactional processes and typical customer experience scenarios.  Process maps are very effective for transformational and transactional cases where there’s a logical beginning and end.  Decision-making processes, because of their often ambiguous and open-ended characteristics, do not lend themselves to traditional process maps.
  2. The cause of process inefficiency can be caused outside the process being addressed.  This is, unfortunately, an often overlooked shortcoming of traditional process maps…we’ll come back to this in an upcoming post on Journey Mapping.
  3. Trying to create the “perfect” process maps (and forgetting why you’re process mapping in the first place).  Inexperienced process mappers sometimes bury themselves in process mapping analysis and forget the goal of improvement (i.e. improving the business) and instead focus on building ‘perfect’ process maps.

There are numerous other tools and approaches that can be used to develop CX solutions.  We touched on the Journey Map in an earlier post.  Given its importance in customer experience design (and that in a CX context, its more effective than traditional process mapping), an upcoming post will be devoted to this very useful tool.

  1. Strategic Customer Service, by John A. Goodman
  2. 101 Design Methods, by Vijay Kumar