Posts Tagged ‘problem solving’

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.]

The two top skills of great innovators

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

The Harvard Business Review this month features a fascinating piece by Jeffrey Dyer of Brigham Young University, Hal Gregersen of Insead, and the omnipresent Clayton Christensen, entitled “The Innovator’s DNA.” The authors have completed a six-year study, summarized in the article, involving an in-depth analysis of 25 innovators and a further survey of 3,500 others who were connected to innovation in some way. The study attempted to identify key skills that separated great innovators from the rest of us.

The authors found five key innovative skills – Associating, Questioning, Observing, Experimenting and Networking.

In the article, a chart compares four iconic modern innovators (Michael Dell, Pierre Omidyar, Scott Cook and Mike Lazaridis) with noninnovators, in each of the five skills. The innovators are much above the noninnovators in each dimension, but in two skills the difference is stark: Associating (according to the authors, “the ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields”) and Questioning (”ask[ing] questions that challenge common wisdom”). Noninnovators fell below the 50th percentile on these dimensions, while the icons were with one exception above the 95th percentile of those studied.

Related posts:
Smart World
The Opposable Mind
On Experimentation

Attacking wicked problems by taking a fresh look at outlying data

Monday, October 26th, 2009

In the November Harvard Business Review, Roger Martin (author of one of my favorite books of 2008, “The Opposable Mind“) and autism researcher Stephen Scherer of the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children discuss unraveling mysteries by looking at “outlying” data. In a few words, Scherer says a lot about how to deal with difficult problems:

Autism is a vast problem; no single researcher or lab can take on its full breadth. I focused on just one piece of it: the data that everybody else was throwing away. I call it the garbage-can approach. My belief is that answers to really difficult problems can often be found in the data points that don’t seem to fit existing frameworks.

Scherer looked for patterns in this outlying data. His success in finding some genetic markers for autism reminded me of the plea a couple of years ago to “free the dark data” from failed scientific experiments. And it reinforces the value of the “beginner’s mind” when approaching new challenges.

Related posts:
Top Business Books of 2008
Extracting Value From A Failed Cold Call