– Sense the moment and react appropriately to assuage the situation
The customer journey describes the customer’s behaviour across touchpoints as she journeys the brand from the time of inception to the actual purchase and perhaps beyond. During the engagements, anything could happen from both the customer’s perspective and that of the brand engaging with the customer. Note that some customers are more emotional and as much as they may exhibit some rational judgments in decision-making, they are more likely to lean towards their emotions than being rational. The customer is always right is a common adage for every customer so the here is the need for calmness in dealing with customer issues.
A few weeks ago, there was a “storm” on social media between a customer and a service provider where it appeared that a miscommunication had led to a heated argument between both parties. On leaving, the customer went on social media and in her dissatisfaction shared the incident expressing her feelings vociferously. I would rather not dwell on the incident for our piece today but would like to draw strands of lessons for our personal good. The incident highlights very clearly how moments between the brand and the customers can go either way depending on how the encounter is managed.
It is about “sensing the moment” to ensure that you are attuned to the customer’s emotions and to respond in a way that shows empathy and understanding of the customer’s situation for the mutual good. You will need to respond with a keen interest in ensuring that the customer’s issue is proactively addressed so that the encounter concludes positively. It will require active listening and a genuine desire to see that the customer’s interest is served. When the customer feels heard and understood half the battle is won. Therefore, a situation of this nature requires more than just paying lip service, the key is to truly invest in resolving their issue.
Don’t hesitate to offer an apology however, you must ensure that it is genuine, not pretentious;ly or scripted. By offering a solution you demonstrate that you are not just there to listen and nod but actually prepared to take ownership of the problem and work toward a resolution. You could offer several solutions, so the customer feels like they have options. This scenario plays up very frequently in real life, my personal prayer is that anytime I encounter such a situation I must have the awareness and preparedness to react appropriately. It can be difficult but ask yourself what impact the encounter could possibly have on your personal reputation and that of your business.
Resist the urge to ignore the customer or to respond back to the customer in an equally angry tone (I am assuming the customer is angry at this point). Reacting angrily to the customer will only escalate the situation and make them feel disregarded and unimportant. And trying to prove you are right (however right you are) will be seen as being stubborn and defensive. You will be pouring fuel on fire if you follow the anger bait, the big picture here is for you to preserve the brand. I know it is not an easy proposition but it is a worthwhile gesture that will ensure that at the end of the process, a reasonably amicable situation is arrived at.
Admittedly, there may be instances where you will just have to resign yourself and let go but how about trying hard to prevent that from happening? Here are a few talking points on how to address situations of this nature. First, be prepared to listen attentively to the complaint. Second, respond as promptly as you can regardless of the channel. Third, be sincere with your apologies, it helps to accept where you went wrong and demonstrates your willingness to resolve the issue. Fourth, involve your team if You are not sure of how to handle the Issue. Fifth, consider all the options available to resolve the issue.
Listen to the complaint
Customers want to feel heard, but you ignore them at your peril. When a customer is expecting an order or a service from you when the response from you is untimely, they get frustrated. My outing with a former boss of mine in faraway Singapore made me see how customers get “wound up” when their demands are unmet. He called the waiter over and complained about his lobster which according to him appeared not fully cooked. Being Norwegian he comes from a culture of sea foods so I would assume that his taste for a well-cooked recipe was on point. But for the timely intervention of his boss, the waiter had misjudged the situation.
The waiter was very defensive and this annoyed my ex-boss. However, his manager quickly read into the situation and came over and asked the waiter to go and serve another table. He then went on to offer a replacement of the meal “on the house”. My boss refused the offer, however, he was satisfied that his complaint had received due attention. Often we are too quick to provide a solution to the customer and fall in the trap of not allowing them enough room to complain. Due to the need to meet deadlines frontline agents may try and hurry the customer to enable them move to the next customer. This might backfire and lead to dire consequences.
In 9 out of 10 times the Customer is not just looking for a solution, they are looking for their problem to be acknowledged and validated, and to see that your company has learned from the “mistake”. Allow them to vent their frustrations, you may even go on to repeat back to them any frustrations they have and ask them to confirm you correctly understand. This way you are signaling to the customer that you are paying attention and making a note of their issue. Back to my issue about the customer rant on social media could that unfortunate confrontation have turned out differently? There are vital lessons to learn from the incident.
The longer you wait to respond to customers the more frustrated they become. They feel letdown by your lack of response and tend to feel that the problem will not be solved. A prompt response can quell their frustrations and make them feel valued. According to recent research, speed is everything to consumers in the digital age. 90% of consumers rated an “immediate” response as important or very important when they have a customer service question. Making your customers wait is poor customer service and can potentially cost you future business.
According to a study, 68% of consumers said they have stopped doing business with a brand due to a poor customer service experience. In a perfect world, customers would never be unhappy, therefore you wouldn’t need a customer service operation at all. However, this is unattainable in the real world where problems do occur all the time for a myriad of reasons. How your company responds to these challenges is what sets you apart from your competition. Your goal is to send signals to customers that any time they experience an issue with your company, you will listen and respond swiftly.
Complaints and unhappy customers are inherently negative for your business, a smart way to avoid the letdown here is to leverage the opportunity to evaluate what your company is doing well and to identify areas for improvement. The key here is to get them to talk especially the unhappy ones. A good question to ask here is how do you get unhappy customers to talk? The truth is you can’t force them to talk however you can offer them the opportunity to. A smart way of doing this is by delivering a feedback survey to their address (email). Again. not all unhappy customers will opt to complete the feedback, but many will.
This shows that you care about the customer’s experience and that you are willing to take responsibility for any mishaps or issues. A sincere apology can go a long way to strengthen the relationship as it demonstrates your preparedness to own up to mistakes and work to fix them. Let’s say that this gesture is your way of displaying humility and accountability. Regardless of the extremities of human emotions you may be dealing with currently in customer interactions, be aware that retaining customer loyalty is pivotal to success. How much dissatisfaction customers can take is immeasurable.
Be careful not to make excuses or shift the blame to someone else. You are better off when you accept the mistake and offer a solution that meets the customer’s needs and expectations. Now here is a typical scenario from the playbook of customer service. A customer walks into a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) retail store and goes up to the counter and complains that he sent a drilling machine home only to discover that it wasn’t working and on return, the replacement offered him also failed to function when he took it home. He was in a rage over the situation and came to the store with the intention of collecting his money in order to go elsewhere.
The front desk gentleman he met saved the day for his company as far as this customer was concerned. First, he apologized sincerely and calmly offered to get him a replacement. The customer was really angry because it wasn’t the first time, he had been given a faulty drill. The shop assistant fetched a replacement and plugged it in to test that to confirm that it was functioning in the customer’s presence. Now the customer came in really angry and even threatening to go buy a replacement elsewhere but the calm demeanor of the shop assistant and his apology showed empathy and changed the customer’s mood.
Involve your team
Do not discount the pivotal role of employees in addressing customer issues. If your organization is immensely customer-centric you will have cross-functional teams in place to address customer issues. If it is less so, then it is imperative that you consider investing in building cross-functional teams with specific roles tied to customer issues. The cross-functional teams must include representations from core customer-related departments and other departments to work on specific projects or initiatives ranging from product launches to service improvements and resolution of customer issues.
These teams will build synergies by leveraging diverse skills, ideas, and resources, and deliver effectively and efficiently to achieve customer-focused outcomes. Some of the ways they can collaborate include the sharing of relevant data and insights with other departments and (internal and external) stakeholders. Using tools such as analytics, surveys, and feedback forms they will have the capability to mine patterns, trends, and customer satisfaction drivers to make intuitive deductions about customers. Through platforms such as newsletters, blogs webinars, and workshops, they will disseminate and discuss customer issues to inspire action.
A further point of collaboration is in the recognition and reward of efforts by employees across the organization who strive to fly high the flag of customers and champion their issues from within. By recognizing the achievements of other departments and stakeholders in delivering a consistent and seamless CX through methods such as shout-outs, awards, bonuses, or incentives to acknowledge and appreciate their contributions. By celebrating successes and learnings of CX projects and initiatives, people are motivated to drive actions that impact your Customer Experience. Having CX teams in place enhances your readiness for CX management.
Explore all options
CX goals are best attained when there is alignment with business goals. One way to do this is what is referred to by experts as the Engagement Capacity Gap (ECG). It is found by measuring the difference between what the business wants to do and the ability to do it. The E-Myth author Michael Gerber shares an example of this after he paid a curious visit to the Hotel Manager. He was intrigued by the superior experience on a random visit to that hotel and thus took time to engage the manager to find out what they were doing differently. According to him, the hotel also empowered its staff to meet the specific needs of customers where they fell short.
As a business strategy, the hotel ensured that if the customer was demanding something that was not within their offering their staff who was dealing with the customer could quickly acquire this to keep them satisfied. For example, if a brand of drink was not available in their stock they were prepared to get it for the client as quickly as possible. Another approach to keep them aligned with customers was to ensure that communication across channels was efficiently managed to ensure that there was widespread access to customer feedback to facilitate good decision-making and team alignment with organizational goals.
The CX leader must help to close the ECG i.e. closing the gap between customer expectations and the organization’s capacity for engagement. When these two are misaligned the customer experience suffers. According to researchers, many organizations struggle with the ECG to some degree. For example, 63 percent of retail chains in some advanced countries researched claim they are unable to properly staff stores, and more than half of the companies across sectors are seeing new demand for digital-first customer interactions. This background ensures that CX leaders are uniquely positioned to identify ways to close the ECG to improve the customer experience.
Customer Experience in principle focuses on ensuring, that the customer feels valued during every encounter knowing that the business she is dealing with will go to lengths to keep her satisfied. This notwithstanding not all encounters end in “happy landings”. To ensure that the customer experience seems right most of the time there is the need to deliberately set your business up in anticipation of when things go wrong so that when they do, your recovery will be swift and seamless. Make it your goal to deliver superior experience and strive to recover even when things don’t seem right.
|The Writer is Head of Training Development & Research
Service Excellence Foundation, and Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205,