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Get your R’s in Gear to Improve your Customer Service

– By Gerry Brown

Today’s customers are impatient, fickle and increasingly vocal about being forgotten in long phone queues, let down by poor web sites and misunderstood by disinterested or powerless customer service agents. And there’s nothing like a powerful personal experience to remind us just what good customer service entails – and just how badly many organisations do it.

My white paper on the Four Principles of Customer Experience: Culture, Commitment, Communication, Community, expands on the Four Cs every customer-facing business needs to grasp. But the result of my own great customer experience means that I’ve now moved on the letter ‘R’ in alliteration and game-changing concepts.

10-02-get-3rsThe original three Rs can trace their start in life as a reference to the importance of a strong educational foundation: Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic. Depending on which account you believe, they appear to date back to the early nineteenth century and since then, this trifecta model has demonstrated its enduring strength both in alliteration and as a linguistic device, to develop similar strong foundational concepts in formal education, personal development and, more latterly, business.

The R’s came about after I decided not to take a bite of the big Apple revolution and place my faith in various Samsung devices, which included mobile phones, tablets and TVs. As with any new technology adventure, I’ve had a few growing pains and finally decided, against all male instincts, to seek help from Samsung support. I won’t go into details here, but the early signs weren’t good and I sent a strongly worded email to Samsung’s UK support team.

Based on my experiences with other tech company support operations, my expectations were pretty low. But I hadn’t reckoned on getting a call from Paddy in Newry – has a nice ring doesn’t it?

Paddy, who is a team leader with Samsung’s support team – and it’s clear why – called me within four hours of my rather frantic email. And here, with the benefit of the new three Rs, is what happened.

1.     Recognition

The first thing that Paddy did was to recognize that I had a problem and to offer his apologies – not only for the problems I was having with my devices, but also for the difficulties I was having with support and the time that this cost me. The way that Paddy handled this, not just what he said, but his inflection and the empathy he communicated, convinced me he was sincere.

This is critical to getting the customer rescue exercise off on the right foot. Very often when things go wrong – especially with train companies, mobile phone providers and banks – you get the lame and insincere, corporately crafted “we apologize for any inconvenience caused”, which has as much feeling as a frozen moose on a Canadian prairie in winter. While I recognize that in this increasingly litigious era, companies are scared to death of admitting anything beyond rank and serial number, it’s refreshing and organizationally positive to get an honest and sincere apology when things go pear-shaped.

2.     Recovery

Then Paddy went to work on the recovery phase. We went through the issues, slowly, carefully and in a detailed, yet not in a patronizing or condescending way. This wasn’t just about fixing the problems. He made sure that I understood what was causing the problems and how to ensure that they didn’t reoccur. He listened. More importantly, he heard what I said. He gave me time to respond and at all times gave me the feeling that this was as important to him to find a resolution as was to me.

Archaic and dumb contact centre metrics such as average handle time (AHT), don’t get a look in here. But, as a result of this encounter, more important customer experience metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS), will tell the true story. Once again, without being sycophantic, he apologized for the problems and made me feel glad that I’d made this contact. Contrast this with the experience I had the previous day with my mobile phone provider, where the ‘service advisor’ spoke over me, never heard or listened to my real issue and left me even more frustrated than when I had started the call.

3.     Renewal

As many of us recognize, recovering from a difficult customer situation or complaint can provide one of the best opportunities to build a meaningful, mutually profitable, long term relationship. And renewal of trust and faith in an organization is probably the most critical and difficult area of the whole customer rescue process. Because at this point, as with any recovery process, whether in our personal or business lives, we need a strong, emotional and compelling reason to stay where we are and/or to continue to use a product or service. The alternatives are to make more drastic, time consuming and potentially costly decisions, and to seek solace elsewhere.

But by now we were well on the journey to renewal. Paddy had recognized and addressed my concerns, recovered the situation and now the power and resilience that human kindness and a strong emotional connection can bring, completed the process. Seems over the top? Not at all, because how else will that happen?

As my fellow Canadian, Joel Bakan, asserts in his book The Corporation, companies are by their nature sociopathic, effectively having the legal rights of an individual, but with no social conscience. The corporation has a legally defined mandate to relentlessly pursue – without exception – its own self-interest regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause to others.

While this may seem unfair, especially to organizations like Samsung that do appear to care, it’s often left to people such as Paddy to pick up the pieces when corporate objectives and personal expectations collide so spectacularly. Which he did expertly, with skill, care and compassion.

In the context of a great customer experience, I’m sure you could find room for some other R’s. Retention, Referral and Relief, for example.   But in keeping with my general customer experience philosophy, let’s keep this simple. If you follow this three step customer rescue plan you’ll be less likely to lose your customers or to be up to your Rs in alligators.

Gerry BrownGerry Brown, The Customer Lifeguard,  is on a on a mission to rid the world of bad customer service and knows that delivering a great customer experience isn’t just a “nice to have”, but a serious contributor to the bottom line.

Through key management roles in the UK and Canada, Gerry has helped customer service organizations in both countries. In his current role as a speaker, workshop trainer and consultant, his focus is now on helping businesses create a memorable and lasting customer experience that will drive loyalty, reduce attrition and bring profitable customers back again and again.

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