If We Only Knew

Quick Summary: Sharing customer issue information can result in resolving issues before they reoccur.

Abstract:

Unintentionally, information related to customer issues is often like the proverbial light under the bushel basket; unavailable to those who could benefit from it.  Customer Service organizations, as the focal point for all customer inquiries, need to resolve issues as they occur, but also understand what steps could be taken to eliminate the issues from occurring in the future.  They can do this by accumulating, analyzing, and then sharing their observations with other elements in the organization.

We have all been there.  In a casual conversation, someone will make a comment and we will be surprised and respond with something similar to: “Wow, if I had only known, I could have told you…”.  Sometimes a solution or an approach to a problem unknown to others is obvious to us.  The reverse is probably just as common. Most customer service organizations probably experience this frustrating dilemma more often than any other group in a company.  By its very nature, acting as the frontline that is responsible for virtually all customer inquiries after a sale is made, customer service reps are expected to respond to issues that may involve any aspect of the company’s products or services.  Often, the same issues constantly reoccur and the customer service organization becomes quite efficient in responding to the inquiries.  Probably the most common situation involves product instructions that are not clear or, worse, incorrect.  That issue is followed closely by overzealous advertising of a product or services features or functionality.  The obvious answer is to correct the confusing or erroneous information to avoid future occurrences.  Remarkably, those obvious corrective actions are often a long time in coming.  The delays are often the result of the lack of involvement of source experts that work in areas other than customer service.  The article in this collection “Department or Activity” discusses the fact that individuals that work in areas other than customer service are likely to have different goals and objectives and are accountable for those activities and simply do not prioritize customer service related issues.  The corresponding “neglect” may be conscious or unconscious, but the results are the same; the root cause of certain issues that could be easily addressed is allowed to fester.

A few simple processes can be implemented to address this issue that, in the long run, benefits everyone from customers, to customer service personnel, and even the groups responsible for resolving the fundamental issue.  Here are some examples:

  • Implement a customer service issue documentation system and insist on its use for every customer call received.  This approach follows the notion, described in the article “A Simple Definition of a Defect”, in which a defect is defined as any deviation from a customer’s expectation.  This broad definition eliminates any discussion.  For example, the statement that “That’s not a defect, the product is working the way it was intended” is often used to deflect a very real customer issue.  The product may, indeed, be operating properly.  However, the defect may be in the product’s documentation or advertising that was misinterpreted by the customer, causing a customer’s expectation not to be met.  Periodically, the overall list, sorted by occurrence (Pareto analysis) and severity (returned goods, customer sentiment, bad publicity, etc.), should be reviewed by representatives from all groups and appropriate action plans be instituted.
  • Assign representatives from various departments to periodically listen in on customer service calls to hear direct feedback from customers and the associated customer service interaction that takes place.  With their different expertise and insight, these individuals may be able to suggest changes that can be implemented by their groups or customer service.  Additionally, the individuals that participate in the monitoring activities will gain a better understanding and appreciation for the wide range of issues that customer service representatives must address.  They are likely to share their experiences with other members of their organizations that will help raise their entire group’s sensitivity to customer issues.
  • Involve customer service personnel in the review of product documentation and packaging before it is finalized.  Based on their past experience, they will be able to offer suggestions and make practical recommendations.  Additionally, since they were not involved in the creation of the material, their first impressions will closely mimic those of new customers.
  • Carefully track repeated customer inquiries on the same issue, paying special attention to intermittently occurring issues that may be indicative of the persistence of a non-addressed root cause.  Attempt to duplicate the problem in a controlled environment in an effort to discover the underlying issue.
  • Regularly conduct open, non-threatening sessions with frontline customer service representatives asking them to complete the sentence: “If I could, I would…” regarding the company’s products or services.  Accept any inputs at their face value without discussion except to clarify the statement.  These sessions serve two very useful purposes.  First, they allow customer service personnel, who are regularly dealing with emotional charged customer situations, to vent; and second, their suggestions, based on real world customer interaction, will provide an entirely different point of view than that held by individuals in other parts of the organization.
  • For sales made to organizations instead of consumers, ask customer service personnel to try to capture information regarding the role of the person who is calling.  Were they, for example, the person that was involved in the purchase of the product or service or were they end users that were not involved in the purchasing decision?  The caller’s involvement in the purchasing process may have a significant influence on their acceptance of the product or their expectations.  The article in this collection “There are only Two Kinds of People” described critics and creators.  Individuals become creators if they are involved before a decision is made.  Individuals that are told about decisions that have already been made without their involvement easily become critics of that decision.  This one bit of information can help a customer service rep determine how best to interact with the caller.  Also, it can be helpful in developing follow up response programs.

Referring to the title of this article, all of the suggestions made are targeted at addressing the sharing of information that is available, but often untapped or not shared.  It is remarkable how easy it is to capture this information.  In most situations, all one has to do is ask, listen for the response, and then think about who else could benefit from it before the “If I only knew” response occurs.

Article Number : 6.010404   

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