Posts Tagged ‘problem resolution’

Nice is nice, but customer service means solving problems, first and foremost

Monday, July 26th, 2010

I’ve been immersed in studying customer service calls for more than a year now. I’ve gotten very attuned to how customer service representatives handle requests, and I’ve drawn one major conclusion: nice is nice, but effective beats it hands down.

I have to confess that I hadn’t crystallized this thought until I read “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers,” by Matthew Dixon, Kathy Freeman, and Nicholas Toman, in the July-August Harvard Business Review. This perceptive article is full of clear thinking and good ideas about what good customer service (both web self-service and telephone service) means.

Most importantly, the authors reject the idea of delighting customers in favor of effectively solving customers’ problems. They underline this theme by referencing their study (through the Corporate Executive Board) showing that customers’ loyalty was only slightly positively affected by great customer service, while disloyalty was heavily influenced by poor service. In other words, you can’t create (too much) loyalty by over-the-top service, but you can easily drive customers away with lousy service.

This helps explain something I’ve witnessed among companies that take intense pride in their customer service: what seems like great service from the rep’s point of view may not be great service from the customer’s point of view. One example is the question of whether or not to transfer the call. When a customer has a technical problem, it’s ideal if the first person who answers the phone can solve the problem. However, a timely transfer to a tech is far preferable to a rep spending countless minutes researching knowledge bases to try to learn about an unfamiliar issue.

Another area Dixon, Freeman and Toman focus on is on preventing downstream calls. As they explain, this is not the same as first call resolution (FCR), because it’s possible to resolve a customer’s issue (thereby achieving FCR) but not head off a forseeable next call. An example: helping a customer find and download a wild new mobile app may answer the customer’s specific question, but if the rep explains how to use the app, the customer won’t need to call back.

Stop Trying…” is well worth reading in full. It provides a fresh look at customer service and helps remind us (me) that great customer service is about solving problems. If only the CEO of a certain broadband service provider, which I called no fewer than four times to solve a critical service interruption and which offered an appointment 5 days later as a solution, had read it. [Mr. Roberts, that means you.]

A moment of truth

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

530-40501Moment of truth (1932)
1 : the final sword thrust in a bullfight
2 : a moment of crisis on whose outcome much or everything depends

(source: Merriam-Webster online)

Marketers have been using the above term to refer to the time a customer decides to make a purchase, or to continue doing business with a company. Comparing someone browsing in a store to a bullfighter poised to thrust his sword into a bloody, tired adversary seems a bit weird, but the term has stuck; largely, in my opinion, due to the importance of each interaction a company has with its customers.

I had one of those moments today, with my…wait for it… bank.

I went to the drive-up window at the bank today at lunchtime, with two deposits. One was a rent check for my brother-in-law, who owns a rental property nearby but who lives in North Carolina. I had the check (endorsed by my wife) and an empty deposit slip. No account number. The plan was to write the name and town and ask the teller to look up the account.

Of course, there was no pen in my car. There was a dry-erase marker and I used it to (try to) write my brother-in-law’s name and town on the deposit slip. Then I threw the check, slip, and my own deposit into the pneumatic-tube system carrier and sent it over to the teller.

“I have a stupid question,” she said through the intercom. “There’s no account number here.”

“I know, it’s my brother-in-law. His name is … and he lives in … Can you please look up the number?”

“No problem…. Also, who is the check made out to?”

“My wife. His sister. She endorsed it.”

“OK. I’m going to stamp it FOR DEPOSIT and go from there.”

“Thanks a lot. Sorry to dump this on you.”

The transaction continued. Then the carrier returned through the system with a swoosh. “Thanks and have a nice day,” the teller said. Inside the canister were my receipts and a lollipop for my seven-year-old, who had been sitting in the back seat playing with a Bionicle toy.

This was a transaction where I made several mistakes and cut several corners in the interest of saving time. But rather than showing any impatience, or really anything other than appreciation and courtesy, the teller solved the issues and handled everything. Wow. A machine would have told me to go home and get my transaction in order. A person sorted it out and helped me.

Machines have their place in customer service. They are very efficient, open all night, and don’t have bad moods. But they won’t provide a moment of truth. The best outcome for the customer is, “I got that done fast. On to the next thing.” A person, especially a well-trained, skillful representative with lots of empathy, can do far more during moments of truth.

So as we think about customer service of the future, where do the reps fit in? Because they matter.

[Photo: Model 45DR pneumatic carrier via]