What is the ideal time frame for responding to a customer complaint?
Our experience suggests that the number one thing that dis-satisfies customers is “how long you took to handle my problem.” This holds true across industries.
However, an ideal response timeframe does not necessarily equate to elapsed time. It is the customer’s perception of you and the process you are putting them through during that elapsed time that becomes the measure of what is “ideal.”
What steps should be taken right away, and then how long should it take to solve the problem?
Three tiers of steps are important to manage customer perception.
TIER 1: Set expectations proactively before an issue arises. Given that the customer’s perception of you and the process you’re putting them through drives what is an “ideal timeframe” in their mind, the first step is to proactively establish realistic expectations with the customer about response time and processes.
TIER 2: Communicate respectfully during the issue handling process. Two key things we emphasize in our Service Excellence programs:
- Assure that you’ve listened, care and want to help.
- If the issue cannot be resolved immediately, be clear about the next steps.
TIER 3: Manage those next steps well through effective processes & technology. Details will vary, of course, according to multiple factors: whether the interaction is B-2-B or B-2-C; the industry; SLA (service level agreements); the communication channel (face-to-face, email, phone, social media, etc.); escalation necessities; and so on. In any case, best practices include:
- Tracking customer expectations and customer data accurately;
- Intelligent routing to the right service provider(s) in your organization;
- Monitoring and flagging capabilities within the process;
- Customer access to helpful information (e.g., from your Web site);
- Service providers who know what to do when things go wrong or when exceptions need to be addressed—not just for the “happy path.”
Why are these issues important in the business world?
Ideal timeframes for handling customer issues is not usually about reality; it’s about the customer’s perception of you and the processes you put them through. Even when you cannot “satisfy” a customer (i.e., they’re not getting exactly what they want or within the timeframe they wanted it), you can usually say and do things to maintain their “loyalty” (i.e., they stay with you and even speak well of you to others). And, isn’t this the real goal? That leads to a better brand reputation and bottom line.
2013 marks the 500th anniversary of Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince;” a little book declaring that public political position demands actions, which personal morals or religious values would otherwise condemn. In other words, interests of the state render “evil” actions non-evil when necessary: killing (war); or dominating some for the sake of state expansion.
Here, I don’t want to debate what has come to be known as “Machiavellian.”
But, is “Machiavellian Management” in companies sometimes necessary? For the health of the company, must personal ethics occasionally be suspended? Unlike the state and its citizens, in the case of the company, its employees do not always benefit when management exercises what might be seen as Machiavellian measures: layoffs; decreased benefits; work conditions that stress personal lives.
Who have I seen caught in the middle? Mid-level managers wrestling with the pressures of their position of power and lack of power; their personal values and the company’s needs. “We’re not a family here.” But we are human.
(1) Is “Machiavellian Management” necessary, or an excuse?
(2) How do we address this issue honestly in management development?
Harris Interactive found the following about online customer communication preferences. Although a couple years old, their findings remain suggestive. 62% of consumers online who have had a problem researching a product/service or with the product/service itself go to a company/brand’s website to find information. 28% of customers online said that by improving website usability and search functionality companies can better engage with them to encourage them to spend more.
If customers can’t find what they need online, they want the option to engage with a live person on the phone or a live person to respond to an email or chat online…
1) 73% prefer to speak directly to a live customer service agent
2) 66% want to send an email when they interact with a company.
When consumers are researching a company’s product or service online or having a problem with a product/service, they usually call (62%) or email (49%) the company directly.
–18% of consumers want to be able to chat online with a live agent.
–43% of online customers use a search engine.
REFLECTION: Are we making ourselves available to customers in their preferred lines of communication?
This Customer Experience Impact Report was conducted within the U.S. by Harris Interactive on behalf of RightNow Technologies September 2009 among 2,295 U.S. adults ages 18 years or older.
Why is Davis-Mayo Associates committed to delivering our customer service training programs in person rather than remotely by e-Training, CD or video?
CUSTOMIZED & INDIVIDUALIZED. We customize the program to fit the needs and the outlook of participants. Scenarios, examples and role plays are taken from an organization’s experience (through our pre-session preparation). Participants’ language is employed; their challenges are addressed. ADVANTAGE:
1) Participants “buy in” and remain engaged;
2) Participants apply the learning to their specific world;
3) Better understanding of the approaches, tools and nationally field-tested best practices.
GROUP INTERACTION. Small and plenary group exploration creates an opportunity to share and resolve issues. Larger group discussions instill understanding and overcome resistance. ADVANTAGE:
1) Rapport, trust and team thinking emerge;
2) Participants become active problem-solvers;
3) Participants discover ways to support one another;
4) The group “brings along” resistors;
5) Opportunities for collaboration and application appear.
LEARNING IS “CAUGHT.” Questions can be answered. Discussion leads to new awareness among participants. Feedback to facilitator who is expert both in customer service and adult learning provides opportunities for clarification and application. Best practices are shared among participants. ADVANTAGE:
1) This is the best way to invite notable change in “attitudes” as well as behaviors;
2) Knowledge acquisition is richer and transfer of training to every-day application more powerful;
3) Impact leads to retention and on-target application;
4) Areas of participant interest are addressed on the spot.
A LIVE FACILITATOR IS PART OF THE PROGRAM. The facilitator models the content. A good facilitator helps people shift their attitudes and behaviors, in addition to merely passing on skills. It is powerful to find a facilitator who is also a subject matter expert. Clients tell us that this makes all the difference. ADVANTAGE:
1) Role model adds clarity and motivation;
2) Rapport with facilitator generates commitment to the content.
SO, WHAT CAN MAKE LIVE TRAINING WORTH IT?
1) Customized content.
2) Immediate real-life application.
3) Opportunities to learn and apply by asking questions.
4) Synergy and humor—the “ah-ha” and the “ha-ha” factors.
5) Inspiration and motivation.
6) Interaction and human engagement.
7) Connection and commitment.
What is a “brand?” It is a very personal connection that forms in the minds of customers and coworkers through their experience with us—at every point of contact.
Consider that each of us has our own personal “brand” as a professional. Groups, teams and departments have a brand, too. We invite positive connection and trust from our customers and coworkers when we maintain a balanced, professional brand. This attraction results often in their loyalty. It opens the way for communication, trust, personal effectiveness.
Effective professionals have learned to maintain a consistent personal and team brand when they are “on stage” with customers and coworkers. Professional excellence is not just attention to doing tasks well; it is attention to a professional, balanced brand with people, too!
There is a significant link between a customer’s perception of any organization and how they perceive they were treated by one of that organization’s employees at any given time. What makes us stand out in today’s service-oriented culture is the excellence of our personal, team and department brand. These add up to be our organization’s brand.
OUR PROFESSIONAL ROLE: Maintaining an Excellent Personal Brand.
Your organization may employ many people. Yet a customer forms a judgment about our entire organization through contact with any one of them. If this one person is seen as unprofessional or inefficient, the bad impression is not easily or quickly overcome. Courtesy and efficiency over an extended period of time is required to overcome that negative experience. Therefore, every one of us who comes into contact with customers is a perception-creator. The perception is an advertisement…good or bad.
When you are interacting with a customer, you are your organization to them! In addition to our “job description,” we have a “role” to play with each customer–it’s not just WHAT we do; it’s HOW we do it–every time; every interaction.
REFLECTION: What reflexes and habits do I exhibit, which threaten my professional brand–not in my eyes; but in the eyes of others?