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By JOHN AGER, Consultant & Master Trainer, Kepner-Tregoe Inc.

JOHN AGERHow does your organization view customer complaints? Most companies do not readily welcome them, but if handled well, customer complaints can be a significant source of information, helping to control costs and actually enhance customer satisfaction. Yet many organizations seem to have the perspective that addressing customers’ concerns is inherently an impediment to maintaining efficient operations.

Much of the management effort directed toward customer service reflects this tension. Often, the emphasis is on taking action — any action — to reduce attention from customers and the press. Too much management time and attention spent on this approach to customer service is expensive and wasteful.

Resource efficiency and customer service are not opposing forces. In fact, using systematic techniques to escalate and investigate customer complaints, take appropriate containment actions, and choose and implement corrective and preventive actions can help most organizations improve customer satisfaction and cut costs.

Systematic Data Collection

What value does your customer-support function provide your organization and your customers? One measure of value is the number (or percentage) of customer issues the support team is able to handle directly and close out during the initial call. Another measure of value could be the confidence the support team provides customers when assuring them that issues left unresolved during the initial call will be handled promptly and effectively.

A third measure of value could be the quantity of information the support team collects during the initial call that contributes to final resolution of the issue, and minimizes additional effort required by second- and third-level support staff to resolve the issue.

Ask yourself these questions when considering value:

  1. What percentages of customer issues are not resolved during the initial call?
  2. What is the resource cost to your organization of resolving these issues?
  3. What is the customer satisfaction cost to your organization, based on the amount of time (or number of iterations) required to resolve these issues?

Kepner-Tregoe has designed a proactive model for maximizing the value that the customer-support function can provide to both your organization and your customers. At its core is a systematic approach for managing the information that customers provide to ensure that issues are properly escalated, and problems are properly identified and resolved, so that customer expectations are, at minimum, met (or preferably, exceeded).

Logic of Model

Most issue-resolution systems include the following steps:

  1. Issue identification. Customer service documents the reported complaint.
  2. Issue escalation. Management prioritizes the problem and determines if containment is required.
  3. Issue containment. The organization responds to limit the extent and effects of the issue, as required.
  4. Issue investigation. A team then investigates the issue and documents their findings.
  5. Fix selected. The team chooses corrective and preventive actions to fix the problem.
  6. Case closed. Management then approves the thoroughness of the investigation.
  7. Fix implemented. A team then implements the fix.
  8. Fix approved. Management then approves the efficacy of the fix. 

A systematic process for gathering the information required to complete each of these steps effectively is at the core of the model for maximizing customer satisfaction and ensuring support system efficiency.

Issue Identification

Issue identification begins with the first phone call, email or fax received regarding a complaint. Customers may initially provide information that is biased by assumptions, or premature and inaccurate conclusions about potential causes. The person handling the initial call needs to gather data that provides a robust understanding of the presenting event, and how it relates to the product or service in question.

It is probably premature to begin exploring the why, so the initial questions should focus on the what, where, when and extent of the issue. These questions will help you establish what you know to be true about the presenting issue and how it is an actual issue, rather than what you think might be the issue.

If the answers to these questions are sufficient, they can guide escalation of the issue, decisions on containment and provide the starting point for determining the cause of the concern. Accurately describing the issue is crucial to the process. Descriptions such as, "Device is dead," or "Device doesn't work," do not add much to your state of knowledge.

When customer service representatives collect information about complaints, they should ask themselves the following:

  1. How useful is the information provided for understanding the scope and impact of the incident?
  2. How useful is the data for tracking and trending incidents over time?
  3. How useful is the data for prioritizing incidents and determining appropriate next steps? 

Please tune into the Chemical Equipment Daily for part two of this two-part series. What’s your take? Please feel free to leave a comment and start a dialog below! For more information, please visit www.kepner-tregoe.com.

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