By Zach Buehl, Vice President of Client Success
We all know the best way to solve issues is to prevent having them in the first place, but that’s not always an option. Sometimes, no matter our best intentions, we will still have issues arise or get thrown a curveball and teams need to be prepared for how to handle those situations.
Common sense dictates that the best course of action is to solve the problem and move on, right? Well, yes and no. Solving the problem is important, but how you handle the process is just as important. Customers want to know that their problem is not only taken care of; they also want to know that it won’t happen again, that you care about them and their business, and that you value their happiness. There’s a famous saying that “life is a journey, not a destination”, and that applies to customer experience more than any other part of business. So, when a customer brings you a problem, how do we make the journey as pleasurable as possible to show customers they are valued?
The process breaks down into 5 main steps:
- Acknowledge the issue
- Create a path to resolution
- Walk the path
- Arrive at your resolution
- Stay in touch
Now, let’s take a look at the nuances within each step and how to approach them.
1. Acknowledge the Issue
This can often be one of the toughest parts of the entire journey. It’s not enough to say that you’ll help a customer, you have to admit there is something to fix. This does not mean the same thing as admitting blame, but merely that there is a gap between what the customer expected and what is being provided to them. Instead, you have to listen to what is being said and work with the customer to understand what they are going through before you can move forward. So, how do move the process forward?
–Ask questions and take your time: Obviously, questions need to be asked to gather info, but too many companies make the mistake of trying to do things quickly rather than correctly. Multiple studies* have shown that customers value good service over fast service and will be more likely to remember and recommend brands based on the quality of the service received vs the speed. Zappos is highly regarded to have some of the best customer service in any industry and they stress that no amount of time is too much for a customer. Customer retention is number one for them and time is never a factor.
–Apologize and show empathy… but not too much: Empathies and apologies are seen as a necessary part of the customer experience to humanize your company and make customers feel like they are being heard. However, too much apologizing gives the impression that no progress is being made and the problem is not getting closer to being resolved. It’s actually detrimental to the experience to constantly be apologizing as it’s seen as a barrier to progress. So, apologize once and move on to resolution planning to keep the process moving.
–It’s okay to say “I don’t know”: This one can be a bit counterintuitive, given customers are coming to you for help with something they need your expertise on, but acknowledging that you don’t know everything and making it a journey you take with the customer makes the experience more personal. The caveat here is that you have to be willing to help figure it out with the customer; just saying “I don’t know” and leaving it there doesn’t help. When you make things personal for customers, they like the service more and perceive it to be more impactful than merely pushing them through the machine of fixing problems. Forbes even encourages people to start with the default of thinking they don’t know the answer to a problem in order to think through it in a different way and learn more for themselves. It’s enriching for both your customers and your employees to be able to educate themselves in the process of help.
So, we’ve learned to apologize (but not too much), take our time (while making progress), and take the customer on a journey with us, now we need to show them we understand the issue and know how to move towards resolution.
2. Create a path to Resolution
Now that we’ve acknowledged there is an issue and have gotten the appropriate information from the customer, we need to have a game plan for how we fix this. This is often where companies make the mistake of thinking they need to solve the problem at that exact moment. That is not what is intended here in this step; instead, it’s intended to have a plan for the next steps in the process. As discussed before, speed is not the biggest factor here, rather going for good service will keep customers happy.
–Have clear next steps: There may be more research needed on your end to analyze all the options. There may be more information needed from the customer. There may need to be an exploratory visit from an expert to confirm suspicions. Whatever the case is, progress needs to be made from this initial phase. Instructions on how to proceed will let the customer know that work is being done and make them feel as if they are being taken care of.
-Establish a follow-up time: This is another often neglected element and can be very difficult to commit to, but having a date that a follow up will definitely happen by is helpful to show the customer you’re working on the issue. This doesn’t mean you have to say when the issue will be fixed or even that you will definitely have progress made, just that you will be reaching back out to the customer at or before a certain date to let them know what is happening in the process.
–Let the customer know this is a process: Some issues that arise can be easily resolved in one call or session, but some may have more steps than just one. It’s important to realize that you don’t need to have every single step of the way outlined perfectly right away and that your path could be a winding one. Establish right away that things could change, but the customer will know when they do. Keep the customer updated along the way and let them know as soon as possible if an additional step is needed, if the path needs to be modified because of additional information that came up, or if more money is required. Customers will pay more and be more patient for better service, much of which is perceived with how they are treated and informed along the path to resolution.
So, we have at least the beginning of a plan to resolve the issue, but now we have to execute that. Which means we move on to…
3. Walk the Path
This might be the most straightforward part of the process: start with your path to resolution. There can be difficulties that arise when fixing an issue, but the only way to finish the process is to get it moving. As previously stated, this piece can change directions multiple times and may not be exactly what you expected when you set out on the path. You may even discover new issues when remedying the initial piece. While this can be challenging, there is only one overarching bit of advice to follow during this process.
–Keep the customer informed of what is going on: To reiterate one more time: speed is not the main factor. Customers are very receptive to how you handle a problem as long as they know what is going on. A recent study by the American Marketing Association shows that people pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues during the customer service process very well and it can have a great effect on how they felt about the journey. Being as transparent as possible and keeping the information flowing is very important. You can earn a lot of respect and forgiveness if the customer feels they are informed because they feel as if they are a part of the process rather than removed from it.
While the path to resolution isn’t always simple, this is how you connect with customers the most and show your capabilities to help them in their time of need.
4. Arrive at the Resolution
We’ve walked that path and discovered what was needed to fix the initial issue, now we’ve gotten to the resolution. This may seem like it would be simple: the issue is resolved and the customer is happy. However, just rectifying the situation doesn’t tell the whole story to the customer. What if it happens again? What steps are being taken to prevent this in the future? Where do we go from here? Well, these questions can be answered and concerns can be easily allayed with the following steps.
-Explain the work that was done: You don’t need to go into great detail, but there has to be more than just “we fixed the issue”. Customers see the journey from the outside and want to feel included along the way. So, if you can explain what work was done and how it was accomplished (even at a high level), the customer feels more at ease and less like an outsider to the process.
-Have a plan for prevention in the future: Customers can forgive a lot with empathy and apologies, but they will lose patience quickly if they feel no progress is being made. And a recurrence of the initial issue is a surefire way to eliminate all progress. So, to put the customer at ease, explain why this shouldn’t happen again and if it does, what they can do to quickly remedy it. This type of assurance makes the experience for the customer better and experience is more important to customers than price or speed, thus influencing their perception of how the journey went.
When you go on a trip, you have to remember that the destination, while important, is only one part. The path to get there on your journey is a huge piece and will greatly influence your enjoyment upon arrival. Take a moment to reflect on what came before to really see the impact of coming to an end.
5. Stay in Touch
Now that you’ve resolved the issue, you’re done, right? Wrong! After having a positive experience, 77% of customers would recommend a company to a friend. The best way to capitalize on that is to follow up with a customer survey or request for a review. Reviews and recommendations are huge influences on who buys your products, so why not get the people with pleasant experiences to tout your company?
–Follow up with a survey about the experience: Customers are very happy to share their experience, especially if they feel like it gives them influence on how you operate in the future. They want to know their words have meaning and if their words can be displayed for others to see, it’s even better. In addition to that, it’s beneficial for your company to see the comments both for positive morale as well as what can be improved. The best way to learn is from those that you serve. It can also show that you as a company care for the customer by checking in with them and valuing their opinion.
–Ask for reviews or social media comments: Reviews are extremely helpful for customers or prospects to see how others feel and will greatly influence buyers in what product they want to choose. Consumers are willing to pay 17% more for great customer service and that’s influenced by what they can read from others. Social media is often shown when the horror stories come out from bad experiences, but people are more likely to comment about good experiences vs bad experiences on social (53% vs 35%). Reviews and social media comments are public and seen as a more trustworthy source for information than pull quotes or video testimonials that can be edited.
Just fixing an issue doesn’t mean the job is done there. Customers will extol your virtues to the world if given the chance, so do it. Be sure to follow up and show you care not only about fixing issues but in making customers happy.
Ultimately, no one wants to see any issues arise, but they are inevitable in any business. How you handle issues is one of the best ways to show customers what kind of company you are and allow for easy customer retention. Harvard Business Review says it’s 5 to 25 times more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to retain current ones, and making customers happy is an excellent way to get them to recommend you to others. So, by focusing on giving your customers the best possible experience, especially when issues arise, is a cost-effective way to actually influence new customers to work with you. Take them on a journey with you and they will appreciate the destination even more!