Turning Around Tough Problems for Your Customers – Part 2

In my first post in this series, I talked about a situation where a disgruntled customer has escalated a problem or disagreement beyond customer service and to senior or executive-level management. We followed a process called LEAP–listening without interrupting, empathizing with the customer given the facts he or she expressed, asking clarifying questions and check-downs, and promising to produce on a way to resolve the problem. But I pointed out the fact that produce hides a lot of detail and can leave you, and your staff, in an ambiguous place about how to completely resolve the customer’s issue. So, how can you make sure your company will take the necessary steps to make things right for your customer?

My second mentor shared tools with me to expand on produce. Yes, starting each conversation with LEAP is great, but you need to change its goal to get the customer’s perspective on the problem. Work on prioritizing the customer’s feedback with him or her; what’s the biggest problem? What other problems have happened as a result? What remedy is the customer looking for and how much time do they have to allow you to reach resolution? It’s important to remember not to take sides at this stage of the process so do your best to distill the customer’s (possibly emotional) perspective down to hard facts. I’d also recommend resisting the temptation to solve complicated problems over the phone. Instead, promise to look into it in more detail and agree to a time to speak again with an update. You’re still adhering to the spirit of the produce step, but I think there’s value in  expanding on it.

Take a look at the unbiased facts you’ve established: What evidence do you have of where the issue went right and where it went wrong? Don’t prejudge and don’t assume that your firm or the customer have diagnosed the problem correctly or have a monopoly on the truth. Start with the first moment of the issue at your firm and follow it until it left your hands but be careful not to end up in an analysis paralysis, diving ever deeper into wasteful facts. Instead, sample a few key points to narrow down the underlying cause of the issue and dig into that spot–kindly challenge your staff, the data in your systems, the paperwork left behind, and any written communication. You’ll likely find things that the customer doesn’t know or didn’t share with you.

Now, let’s assess the facts: Where did the breakdown occur? What does the customer know and of what can you inform them? Where did your staff, and your customer, deviate from the appropriate course of action? List scenarios that explain what happened and eliminate those that don’t match the evidence. You may still have more than one possible scenario. What needs to be done right away to close this issue? How can we fairly make the customer whole? What processes, terms, and conditions could have prevented this?

With facts in hand, explain to your customer an unbiased account of the immediate problem and its underlying cause. Remain clinical and leave emotion out. Distinguish clearly between facts and your opinion and accept blame where it’s fairly due. Most importantly, do not lie. You’ve fixed the source of the leak, now it’s time to drain the basement. You’ve only got two problems left to solve:

First, how can we make the customer whole, immediately and fairly? You still have to solve the customer’s current problem and they’re waiting for that, more than anything else. To me, “whole” means fair to the customer and fair to your company. I find it helps to begin by establishing some principles rather than just splitting the blame. If my team had a verbal agreement about something important enough to cost money and we failed to document it with the customer in writing, then the verbal agreement doesn’t exist and I’ll side with the customer. If we followed our process correctly and the customer missed something, then I’ll suggest that the customer bear the cost to correct it with our help. If both sides made mistakes, then I’ll offer to cover my company’s cost to correct our mistake and suggest the customer do likewise. If our mistake caused a single line item on an invoice to grow more than it should have, I’ll offer to cover the difference on that one item but not to refund the whole invoice. We both follow our Terms and Conditions together, we should solve the problem together, as well.

Second, what can we both do to prevent this problem going forward? Even if the problem begins entirely with our customer’s actions, which I can’t control, I’ll still propose things we can do to watch the customer’s back in the future. That’s just part of a good working relationship. Usually, changes to both sides of an issue can keep it from reoccurring…Until training slips. So, you need to document your processes, update them, and train from your documentation. Does your customer have the power to make the preventative changes on their end? If not, discuss them with someone in authority at their company. I’ve found that customers genuinely appreciate the extra effort.

So, that’s how I often respond to tough customer issues: clarify the problem and then follow two legs: the immediate problem and prevention. But you can still get derailed…What if the customer doesn’t agree with your resolution? What if they don’t believe your remedies will solve the problem? These are the concerns I’ll tackle in my next post.

Advertisements

Turning Around Tough Problems For Your Customers – Part 1

How can I help a disgruntled customer?

When I started as Chief Operating Officer at an Algonquin-sister company almost seven years ago, upset customers scared me. By the time the customer called me, he or she had already exhausted any patience with my customer service team or production manager so now, not only would they bring me their original problem, which usually caught me off guard, but somehow the unsatisfactory treatment from my team compounded thing. Those calls always felt like discovering a car accident at the end of my driveway when I was already late for a vacation flight. The need for escalation stretched their trust in the rest of my staff and the delay caused by working multiple channels in order to get resolution usually meant that they’d been waiting a long time to feel “taken care of.”

Those calls also always left me wondering, how had this happened? Where did all the policies we put in place fail us and our customers? How could we have prevented this?

What does a disgruntled customer want when he or she calls?

In my experience, they’re looking for understanding, an advocate to partner with, a way to make their own customer whole, a way to save their investment and still make money, an opportunity to vent, and, sometimes, just guidance to solve the problem. By the time a problem lands on my desk, my firm has already failed the customer in some way. But, when times get tough, you have to prove your value as a partner. It’s the relationship that matters. Every problem needs to become an opportunity to improve and earn your customer’s continued trust. It’s an honor to serve your customers, even when your firm has failed them, and remember, they could have already moved on to another vendor. Take this to heart because if you don’t learn to address both your customer’s original problem and the way that your firm failed to resolve it, it will follow you to every job. Now is a good time to get better!

When I started my tenure as COO, two mentors shared advice with me. The first introduced me to an acronym “LEAP,” which stands for Listen, Empathize, Ask, and Produce. Listen means to be quiet, take notes, and let the customer tell you everything that’s on their mind. Don’t prejudge, don’t respond prematurely, and wait until the customer has finished. Then empathize, reflecting back how, given their evidence, you would feel similarly. Ask questions, to both clarify and check your facts. Then produce, telling the customer how you’ll handle the problem and follow through with them. Sounds simple, right? I found I could remember this list even when a customer jarred me. But, unfortunately, it didn’t solve all of my customer’s problems.

I found LEAP worked great at calming customers down and returning to a reasonable tone within the scope of a call. It helped my customers feel like “something” would be done after our phone call ended. But the vagueness of that “something” just set me up to fall short of expectations again. Produce was the tricky part. What if I discovered something after the call that changed my perception of the issue? What if my team or I to do exactly what I’d promised on the phone? What if it took me more time to understand the issue? LEAP leaves the resolution to one step and it fails to guide customer service. Should I deviate from our Terms and Conditions? Is this issue worth going “above and beyond?” What if there’s something I didn’t think of on the phone? How do I protect my customer and my job at the same time? What’s fair? Who’s right?

Exhale and relax. I’ll share more soon, in my next post on expanding the “P” in LEAP.

My Presentation Slides: Making Your Site Printable

This post originally appeared on my blog.

On Friday, May 17 I had the pleasure of speaking for the first time at Stir Trek, a one-day conference in Columbus, Ohio, that drew over 1,200 attendees (and I understand sold out in just a few minutes). Apparently the name is a reference to the MIX developer conference, for which they were unable to obtain license to use a variation on the name.

I also had the pleasure of presenting for the first time on best practices for making your web site printable, built from my own professional experience, my PrintShame site, and an article I wrote for .net Magazine, among other resources (also linked in the presentation).

With 40 great speakers across 8 different tracks, there was quite a lot to offer throughout the day. Considering the other presentations held at the same time as mine, I was thrilled to get any audience and more excited to see that those who attended saw value in the topic and asked great questions throughout.

As promised in the session, I have made my slides available online via SlideShare and embedded them here:

Well after the talk I got even more questions and feedback on the session, which I truly appreciated. Since there is no official survey for attendees to give feedback on a speaker, I am hoping any attendees will feel comfortable tweeting about it or leaving a comment here. So far I have gotten one great bit of feedback on Twitter:

(I worked in some accessibility tips during my presentation.)

All other feedback is welcome (including if I was loud enough when the lavalier microphone failed).

While in Columbus I also had the pleasure of having a nice dinner (I arrived too late to make the speaker dinner), visiting the North Market, and, as part of the conference, getting to see a double feature of Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness. All around a good time which I look forward to repeating next year.

This Crazy (Social) World

It’s been one month since the Boston Marathon was interrupted by two explosions resulting from the detonation of bombs placed near the finish line of the event. One of the topics to emerge from that tragic day was the role that social media played in sharing information about the event as the news unfolded.

I first learned of the bombing from a Facebook post made by a friend. As is the case with most things posted on social media sites, I wasn’t completely sure if it was true or just someone joking around. I checked the CNN web site, and right there on the front page was a breaking news alert that confirmed what my friend had posted. A few minutes later, the image that was displayed along with the news alert was a picture that someone had snapped with their cell phone from an adjacent building to the first bomb site. The first thing that struck me was how graphic the image was compared to the images that are usually supplied from traditional media outlets. Minutes later Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites were flooded with images and first-hand accounts from people who were near the chaos that unfolded.

I quickly realized that the way this story was being covered by the normal media outlets was… Different. CNN had a feed of images that were being supplied from cell phones and social media sources. Fox News quickly followed suit. Many of these looked like pictures snapped at the front lines of war. Blood, broken bodies, and people missing limbs. This was a shift from the usual news coverage that I was accustomed to.

On Reddit, AMAs (Ask Me Anything) threads started from people who were at the bomb sites. As was the case with a few recent events, consolidated news threads sprang up from members of the site who filled the role of moderators and filtered the eventual flood of news being supplied from the site’s users. Later, after news that the explosions weren’t accidental, dedicated sections of the site were filled with pictures from the event and encouragement to identify suspicious characters.

As has been the case with recent events (such as the tragic shootings in Aurora and Newton), I quickly made Reddit my one-stop shop for news related to the bombings. The reasons for this are simple. The “news” threads that are common for these events are actually moderated very well. There is great care given to making sure that the reports are verified, and in many cases by more than one source. A consolidated list of links to web sites with interesting information are right there for me to visit if I so desire. I can get a quick overview of all the recent developments as reported across multiple news sources in one place, all at a rapid pace.

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to the way that social media is utilized during these events. I previously mentioned sections on Reddit dedicated to identifying suspicious persons. At various points during the criminal investigation, a number of people were incorrectly identified as being suspects and personal information about them was released. These people suffered undue stress and abuse as a result.

So, what’s my point? I feel like this event was a turning point in the way that news is reported and consumed. When the bombing suspect was apprehended, Reddit had 272,000 concurrent users accessing the site. Although questions about the legitimacy of the sites as a “news source” have arisen, there’s no doubting it’s popularity as one. Traditional outlets like CNN have incorporated social media aspects in its reports, resulting in more detailed, accurate accounts of events as they happen in as real-time as possible. I don’t think they have a choice when anyone with a cell phone can break exclusive first-hand accounts. I find myself wondering how different the horrors of 9-11 would have been experienced had they happened last month.

Don’t Use Global Browser Stats

This post originally appeared on my blog on May 2, 2013.

When I say “global,” I don’t necessarily mean the whole world, but really any aggregate pile of numbers for browsers that aren’t culled from your own site or project.

With IE6 finally fading (which many developers will claim is a result of their IE6-blocking sites), the ire of developers has turned to Internet Explorer 7. Given that many web developers want to play with the new shiny (and not worry about supporting older browsers) or hate the extra work that sometimes comes with supporting older browsers, it’s no surprise that disdain for IE7 is high.

It is with that experience that I think casually tweeting global stats and calls-to-action can be irresponsible without context, as this one on Friday:

This tweet led to the usual self-congratulatory responses of how it’s a web developer’s responsibility to force users to upgrade, old browser support is just a false assumption from the client (and maybe that client should be fired), money is being thrown at the wrong problem, IT departments are just jerks, and so on. While Paul clarifies in a follow-up tweet that he still thinks the content should be accessible, that point is lost as a tweet response instead of a tweet all his followers will see.

Competing Stats

Some responses were more thoughtful and based on a different source of global stats:

Akamai chart.
Screen capture of Akamai chart with Safari, IE7 and IE10 highlighted.

The Akamai chart shows that IE7 is about on par with IE10 and even fares slightly better than Safari 6. The more discerning viewer might notice that Safari use goes up on weekends just a bit while IE7 use drops off for the same period, suggesting IE7 traffic might be coming from office workers.

Ignore Stats That Aren’t Yours

A few people try to make the point that those numbers don’t apply to their sites, some even try to make the point that this isn’t about browser support at all:

As an example, I have a site I was working on last night that gets 7.3% of its traffic (over the last month) from IE7. That’s about one in 14 users. I know I have to support users on IE7 because I look at the stats for the site, not because I look to Akamai, StatCounter, or anywhere else.

Here’s the takeaway I want everyone to recognize: The only browser statistics that matter are those for the site you’re supporting.

I feel so strongly about that point that I am going to quote myself just one sentence later:

The only browser statistics that matter are those for the site you’re supporting.

This Applies to Other Stats

I’ve seen plenty of people discuss window sizes over the years and make generalizations about what sizes to support — even more common in the era of responsive web design. But global screen sizes are irrelevant. Instead, look at the numbers for the site you’re supporting. Even better, look at the viewport size:

There has been a resurgence in discussion of late on print styles, but nobody seems to have any stats for how often users print pages. In the absence of raw data, developers talk about how they use sites and how their circle of contacts use sites. Instead, track it for your own sites and know when pages are being printed:

There are many other cases where developers look to global stats in lieu of tracking their own, but I haven’t written tutorials for them. Now might be a great time to consider writing some of your own for the data points you want to capture.

Related

My Previous Rants

Going the Wrong Way

While supporting your users, and by extension their browsers, is the best approach, it is possible to get so focused on browsers themselves that instead of cutting edge you end up doing the opposite (even if it takes time to become apparent). Take this example from the UK Department for Work & Pensions:

The service does not work properly with Macs or other Unix-based systems even though you may be able to input information.

You are likely to have problems if you use Internet Explorer 7, 8, 9 and 10, Windows Vista or a smartphone. […]

There is also a high risk that if you use browsers not listed below, including Chrome, Safari or Firefox, the service will not display all the questions you need to answer.

The supported list of browsers and operating systems are combinations of Microsoft Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows 2000, and Windows XP with the browsers Internet Explorer versions 5.0.1, 5.5 and 6.0, Netscape 7.2, Firefox 1.0.3, and Mozilla 1.7.7.

The Top 5 Reasons I Love Our Support Ticketing System

During my time here at Algonquin Studios, we’ve made changes to the customer service tools that we use to support our clients, trying to find the best fit for our team and the best level of service for the client. Our most recent change has been, in my opinion, the best–we made the switch to Zendesk, a support ticketing system that tracks all of our emails and phone calls, almost one year ago today and the past year has been a truly productive one for our team (and our clients).

Honestly, there are quite a few reasons why I love Zendesk but today I’m going to share my Top 5, the ones that help make the most impact on our support workload every day:

1) We have exact details about our conversations with clients
There’s no more guessing about topics that may have been covered by another support rep or things that may have been promised during a previous conversation–everything’s there in black and white, for us to review whenever we need it, whether we just need to remind ourselves of where an issue stands or we need a quick way to bring ourselves up to date when we’re stepping in to handle something on a co-worker’s behalf.

2) Clients are automatically emailed whenever there’s an update
Obviously, an automated update system makes it much easier to keep our clients well-informed. No more worrying about forgetting to send important emails–Zendesk has got us covered! Plus, when we’re troubleshooting a support issue, all we have to do is create one update and we can send it to multiple people, keeping everyone involved in the loop.

3) Managers can log in to view our progress on various issues
Zendesk allows our management team to track our progress on support issues without tracking us down for information. With a quick log in, they can see where we are in the support process, determine if the proper progress is being made on the issue at hand, and ensure our clients are getting the attention they deserve.

4) Reporting!
We can track things like call volume, response rates, and most importantly, client satisfaction. Information is power!

5) Three words: Knowledge Base Articles!
We love it when our clients reach out to us, but we also want to make sure we’re giving them a resource for information they can access on their own. Our Zendesk system actually makes it easy for us to build help/how-to articles that empower our clients to find answers whenever they need them: after-hours, on weekends, or even when they simply can’t get to the phone to give us a call. It’s a win-win situation.

Do you use a system to track your support tickets?  How have your customers reacted to the detailed records you’re keeping?