In a recent post, we talked about the importance of feedback loops and how they help us access data and adjust processes based on analytics. In the fourth step of our process we solved the problem, but there is a big difference between finding a solution and actually solving a problem.
Most customer service interactions strive to offer solutions. The issue with that approach is the root cause–what created the problem in the first place–likely has not been changed or eliminated. This means the same problem is likely to surface again down the road. To solve the problem permanently means to use those same feedback loops to alter the way you do business and avoid the same problems in the future.
Let’s take a look at some of the issues that come from providing solutions rather than permanently solving the problem.
Businesses should see customer service problems as an opportunity to learn and improve, rather than simply as issues to be addressed. In fact, your customers’ expectations and needs can–and should–help drive your business’s innovation. When your organization provides a solution to a customer’s problem but doesn’t address the root cause of the problem, it’s a sign that your organization has failed to learn from the problem. Your organization’s first question when you encounter a customer issue shouldn’t be, “How can we fix this?” but rather, “How can we prevent this from happening again?” The answer to that question is the one that leads to real change and improvement within your company.
There is a difference between simply hearing your customers’ complaints and really listening to them. It’s a subtle distinction, but also a real and important one. Hearing is a physical sense; listening is different. The latter requires a conscious choice to process the speaker’s words and consider their meaning and implications. This may seem like an overly scientific sentiment, but stay with me.
When you hear a customer’s complaint, you may nod and smile, but once they’re gone or you’ve offered a temporary solution, you likely move on without giving the interaction a second thought. But when you listen to a customer’s complaint, you go deeper. You’re asking yourself, “What is this person really saying he or she needs in the long run?”
Often, customers complain about a singular thing–slow shipping on a particular order, for example–when they actually have a different overall need: wanting to get their order as quickly as possible. To solve problems in the long run, listening to customers and not just hearing them is crucial.
We live in a society that thrives on instant gratification, like my example of customers wanting to receive their orders as quickly as possible. The need for instant gratification often extends into customer service interactions. When a customer presents an issue, our instinct is to provide the fastest, most immediate solution possible, in the hopes of soothing the customer’s complaint and keeping their future business. However, when organizations take this quick-fix approach to customer service, they often fail to realize they haven’t addressed the root cause of the complaint in the first place. As a result, the problem itself is not fixed. This need for instant gratification may be what keeps organizations from achieving critical growth and success.
So, how do you take your business from providing temporary solutions to solving long-term problems? First, take a moment to realize that your customers’ complaints are the purest form of product development research. When your customers identify a problem, they’re not posing a what-if scenario or hypothetical issue–it’s a real problem, and it offers a chance for your organization to respond in a way that eliminates the issue and promotes organizational growth and innovation.
When customers present complaints, companies must not simply look to offer a solution. They must instead focus on the root cause and fix it. For example, say you receive a customer complaint about a defective product. A temporary solution would be to simply send the customer a new, functional product free of charge. However, that doesn’t explain why the customer received a defective product in the first place. By reflecting on why this happened, you can potentially identify root issues, such as problems in manufacturing, sales, or product testing. Once addressed, your company can work to prevent similar issues in the future.
By seeking permanent, long-term solutions rather than quick fixes, your company will improve its reputation—and its bottom line.
Additional Resources on this Topic:
Why Brands Need More Continuity Between Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service
Competing on Customer Experience: Your Best Bet for the Win
Big Data: Solving Business Problems One at a Time
Originally posted on Forbes.