Like many of you I have in the last few weeks engaged with a few product and service organizations to address issues of service lapses and product defects. A couple of experiences turned out to be very positive while others made me wonder about the state of ownership and commitment from such organizations.
In the process I realized that there is a lot to learn and apply to internal communications based on how we give feedback, how we react to feedback and by understanding human behavior better.
With the external market orientation mirroring internally it is as important for organizations to treat staff as ‘internal’ customers to be able to provide consistent standards of service. Be it a human resources function or the communications department we are always providing services and consulting.
In the process we either seek feedback or receive unsolicited feedback on how we fare with our performance. It is therefore critical how we process feedback and make it work for us.
Here are the situations
- A leading retail outlet which stocked water purifiers sold me a defective piece and expected me to sort the issue directly with the vendor.
- A well-known bank misplaces documents related to my account transfer and expected me to follow-up between branches to iron out differences.
- A growing supermarket chain sells outdated stock of food.
In all three cases I tried resolving the concerns by first calling the toll-free numbers mentioned on the product or on the website. Sometimes the customer care operator picked the call and other times it was a dead-end. I was given assurances of action but didn’t hear back.
When I visited the bank I was stonewalled about the ‘system’, the ‘backend process’ and the need to chase the ‘other’ branch.
The retail outlet manager shared his helplessness about the water purifier firm and how it made more sense to go with some other product!
I then went to the websites and fired complaints.
Lo and beyond I got responses! Before I tell you about the responses I must also add that all the websites have very serious usability issues. Locating the feedback link was an arduous task. Once you locate the link your effort to send a message can be frustrated by broken links or server challenges.
How things panned out.
The supermarket manager was the most supportive and my mail got a prompt message which read:
“Sorry for the inconvenience caused. We will refund the entire amount. Please visit our outlet at the earliest.”
At the outlet the manager promptly took me to claim my refund, gave me his contact number and reassured me of the quality products the chain sells.
With the bank my feedback reached some higher echelon and finally the ‘internal branch dispute’ got resolved on its own without me following up the with branches separately!
The retail outlet made a hash of the feedback received. Initially it took a while for them to take ‘ownership’ of what they sold me. Then they managed to get the vendor to reissue a fresh piece. After 3 weeks the new product got installed.
A final note: none of these service providers called back once to check if all was well after these complaints.
Lessons from these experiences
a) What to avoid when receiving feedback
Very often when the customer service receives the feedback they take it ‘personally’ and can’t differentiate between the issue and the long term impact.
– Responding without understanding the issue: Feedback is a gift to know how we are doing and if people have taken the time to share it, it might be something that pains them. By blaming 3rd parties involved we only give the impression that we aren’t comfortable with taking ownership. The customer doesn’t care about how the internal divisions function. For example, you may be front-ending a system for your staff although there may be multiple players behind the scene – the technology providers, the helpdesk who manage the work flow, the fulfillment partners etc. When you get feedback it may be useful to route the issue to the concerned division and expect a response based on your service level agreements.
– Not providing a timeline or a plan of action: There is no greater concern for a customer who doesn’t know when his issue will be resolved. Commit to getting the feedback resolved in a definite timeframe.
– Asking customers for unnecessary inputs: For instance, I was asked who came to repair the faulty water purifier! Why would a customer even bother to note the name of the technician who came to repair a defective product? Ideally, the vendor should be aware whom they are sending!
b) When we give feedback
How you share your feedback can improve your relationship with the service provider. While the customer is king it is also the responsibility of the customer to be direct and respectful.
– Provide the entire context: all your interactions, service request numbers, people you have spoken with.
– It isn’t us vs them: You are trying to help them solve issues they can’t see from within. As a customer your goal is to help see them successful so that others don’t face the same issue.
– Separate the issue from your own anger or resentment of getting shortchanged or mislead
– Give the benefit of doubt to the service provider: They are primarily in the business of doing well and we must respect that they also have a life to live and families to support.
– Be direct and respectful: Raising your voice or use disrespectful language may give you an edge in the argument but it won’t solve your angst or that of other customers.
c) What organizations can do to make feedback work
Feedback can have a therapeutic effect on an organization although it depends on how you use it.
– Provide greater autonomy and powers to your managers: If for simple decisions and items of low value going to a senior leader for approvals undermines the credibility of the customer facing executive.
– Test your own systems periodically: Not sure how many leaders have personally tried calling their own IVR systems and checked their usability. If you can’t make sense of the instructions not sure how your customers will.
– Have a consistent message and script: Very often your customer care executives can do with consistent messages for specific concerns. Beyond that they need to be able to have the authority to make decisions real-time with the assurance that they are doing so in good faith.
– Ensure you call back the person after the issue is resolved: The rigor of following up and truly knowing if your customer’s concerns have been addressed is what can divide the also-rans from the true customer-centric champions. All it takes is a simple call and you get loyal customers and committed staff.
– Share these stories with your employees: Ideally all the feedback and the resulting solutions provided are analyzed and fed back as stories for employees to learn from. Nothing can be more powerful than an organization that uses case studies of their own lapses to teach how to get better.
That to me completes the feedback loop. Have other suggestions to improve feedback measures internally? Share them here.