Avoiding a Customer Service Disaster

by Jeff Wiener on January 8, 2014

Following any airline disaster investigators inevitably turn to the aircraft’s black box–a virtually indestructible piece of technology that records all the fight data– to discover the reason(s) behind the accident. Most often what investigators find is that crashes are not caused by a single problem, but by a cascade of exponentially worsening issues that ultimately end in disaster…customer service is no different.

I’m sure anyone who operates a business or works in customer service has their own horror stories about customer interactions gone wrong, situations where things just got out of the control and customers were left feeling disappointed, angry, and alienated. In fact, I’ve discovered over the past several decades that no matter how hard one might try to plug the holes in the customer service chain disasters still happen, the only thing we can do is learn from them and move on.

That said, however, learning from them can be difficult, particularly when, like airline disasters, customer service catastrophes can have a myriad of causes, multiple points of failure along the customer service chain that ultimately end in difficulty. But what if I told you your business already has a black box, a built-in analysis tool to help you learn from and avoid customer service disasters; you just need to know where to find it.

Looking back on the customer service meltdowns Digitcom has experienced over the last few years, I have consistently found that our customer service staff or our customer relationship management were rarely to blame. Of course that is where the problem erupts into a meltdown, making it the logical point of blame, but through greater analysis I’ve found the problem pointed to larger systemic issues through the company, weaknesses that when layered together have resulted in disaster.

But like airliners, there is a system that businesses already have in place to intercept such disasters before they arrive, a way to break the chain of causality that would otherwise have led your business to such a problematic conclusion: your employee, you just have to know how to properly utilize them.

The first step to effectively utilizing your employees to avoid disaster is to reduce your reliance on systems, analytics, and technology when attracting and managing customer relationships. There are so many marketing projects that seem like great ideas in theory, plans that are driven by statistics, demographics, and mathematics for how to best drive people towards your business. The problem with these plans, however, is they lack the human touch, and that’s something customers can feel. Further, without that human touch this way of doing things lacks the necessary checks-and-balances to see impending customer service issues, often leading to disaster.

Simply put, you can have the best marketing and customer relationship management systems in place, but if that’s what dictates your side of the relationship with your customer base, your business is in trouble. But as I said, thankfully your business already has the solution to mitigating your dependence on such impersonal systems and technologies and to avoid impending customer service disaster.

Second, empower your employees to problem-solve. Far too often companies have over-involved processes, scripts if you will, for customer complaint resolution, a long chain of staff, managers, and executives that leave multiple points for potential miscommunication and failure. The single greatest way to avoid a customer service debacle is to empower your employees to recognize and respond to issues before they become the snowball that starts the avalanche.

I literally can’t say it enough: empower, empower, empower. As CRM Buyer writer Christopher J. Bucholtz states, “Make your employees your business’ “black boxes,” so to speak.” By giving your staff the freedom to depart from established protocols when they perceive a problem and by giving them the mechanism to report such issues, you will create the framework of checks-and-balances your company needs to avoid the customer service disaster.

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Christian Morales January 17, 2014 at 5:18 am

Informative article. I agree that empowering employees is the best way to avoid any customer service disasters. It’s advisable that you avoid them at all costs.

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