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.

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