30th March 2015
Everyone is someone’s customer and we all at some time experience what we perceive to be an inadequate level of service. The provider of that service could be you and if you have enough customers and are in business for long enough it will be you, whether that is the outcome of reality or perception. The question is, what to do to mitigate against this and more to the point how can you turn a bad experience into a good one? The answer could be as simple as this: draw the customer closer to you and the realities of managing your business and relationship with them by sharing your systems.
Things go wrong. People accept that. What customers can’t stand are a lack of empathy with their position, slow responses to their problems and an absence of timely communication. It’s really easy to solve these things.
Step 1. Give customers a consistent means of communicating with you that is devoid of emotion. This means implementing a help desk ticketing system. If you must have frontline telephone support get them to create the ticket and make sure they capture the customer’s email address. If the customer sends the problem in an email, implement a help desk system that can convert that email into a ticket. If necessary, stick a form on the Internet or Intranet (if your customer is internal), route them there, and get them to type in the details of the problem. The key requirement is to get the matter logged in a system of record that issues back a clickable, usable reference identifier to the customer, so he or she knows they can access information and communicate with you at will. We see the effect of this instant acknowledgement in retail outlets where customers take a ticket telling where they are in line. Nobody throws a wobbly because they see you’re on problem 20 and they’re number 30, they simply wander off doing other things, secure in the knowledge that their turn will come and when it does they will be the sole point of focus.
Getting a help desk ticket in your customer’s inbox as quickly as possible kills their need to micro-manage the resolution of the issue. A help desk ticket with a clickable link tells people a) their problem is in hand and will be addressed in an equitable manner b) they can check on the status over time and c) there is a simple system of on-going communication with a common reference point. Very often, the first time they come upon just such a ticket, they will click on it to prove that this is so. Then, like the ticket-taking customers in a store, they will likely wander off and do other things with their time.
Step 2. Implement Service Level tracking, whether or not your customers have Service Level Agreements with you. The difference between good and great is that great is good, done faster! Think of the customers who take a ticket in a store. What’s the first thing they do? They check where they are in the queue. Next they make a judgement about how long it will be until it is their turn and if it is not imminent they will do something else with their time, because time is precious. It is very easy for a service provider to become aware only of how precious their time is, particularly if they are under pressure, and forget that someone else’s time is now involved when a customer has a problem. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, not even its severity, you must get round to addressing it in some way in a timely fashion, even if all you can do is apologize for a delay. We all know this because we all experience the frustration of delays at train stations and airports. The single most frustrating thing is not hearing or seeing an announcement about a delay. Though we remain frustrated it is very rare for tempers to boil over if the voice over the tannoy explains and apologizes for a continued delay. The voice over the tannoy can even admit to not knowing when the journey can start or resume, but it is reassuring nonetheless.
Step 3. Solicit and analyse feedback. It is a clear sign of a commitment to improving your business and there are improvements you cannot get unless you do this. Most people won’t tell you how to improve and those that try may miss the mark because they don’t know your internal operations. They are not to know that Jim told them to press the wrong button because he, not Jane, was assigned to deal with the problem and Jane is the expert. The ability to analyse and identify improvements (maybe train Jim) based on customer feedback is possibly the most important reason for systemising and automating support. If you don’t do this you will not put in place AAA metrics to feed regular insight into your business. Don’t just focus on open tickets, the closed tickets are a mine of valuable data, particularly if they contain the rare words of your customers, and often form the best data source for ITIL and BPM projects.