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Follow-through makes or breaks customer service success.

What's worse than a bad customer service attitude? Bad follow-through. Clearly, corporate America has adopted the "fair and friendly" customer service demeanor when interacting with customers. We're overrun with solicitous, welcoming customer service reps and improvement-oriented surveys.

But, cheerful communication does not replace the need for complete, competent follow-through. In some ways, there's nothing worse than having high expectations of resolution because of a pleasant conversation, then learning that the issue remains unresolved. Instead of just being annoyed, you're doubly annoyed because you have to continue dealing with something you thought would be handled.

The situation is only likely to worsen. Increasingly, corporate America is tasking its customer-facing forces with being positive and seemingly proactive. At the same time, the infrastructure for issue resolution is becoming ever more complicated and in many cases dysfonctional. The end result is customers saddled with happy-talking reps coupled with sadly deficient outcomes.

Obviously, you don't want to tell your customer service workforce to turn off all the charm. But, clearly it's time to re-examine both how reps interact with customers and the protocols for issue resolution. Following are important considerations:

It's imperative to pair customer expectations with realistic outcomes. So, for example, if the likelihood of solving a problem is low, don't sugar coat it with a bunch of happy gobbledygook. To bring this into better alignment, retrain the reps to present information as truthfully as possible instead of promising the moon and under-delivering. Many people want to be pleasers and do not like delivering bad news that will leave the recipient unsatisfied. This tendency must be tamped down in the interest of being honest.

If the rep knows (or suspects, given the inner-workings of the company) that the issue is unlikely to be handled to the customer's satisfaction, say so. Don't set false expectations. As part of the retraining, make sure reps understand that there are appropriate ways to present unpleasant information without getting confrontational or uncomfortable. Further, explain that customer satisfaction, while the ultimate goal, must align with what is feasible.

Change resolution "ratings" so that reps don't get dinged for honesty. If present protocols measure customer satisfaction without including the context of the challenge, customer service people may get unfairly penalized. Obviously, this flies in the face of encouraging reps to be straightforward and honest. If someone believes he or she can generate a positive customer rating by being nice and passing the buck to someone else to take the heat, there will be strong motivation to do so.

As part of the evaluation process, there needs to be a definitive way to assess how well the rep does at managing customer expectations based on requests paired with realistic outcomes. For example, if a customer demands reprinting of a flawed job in an impossible timeframe, the rep needs to be firm while attempting to accommodate and, where possible, find some middle ground. There are limitations to expectations in our "I want it now" world, and a rep should be able to convey this without getting graded down for it.

Ditch (or at least severely curtail) policies that reward reps for getting people handled the quickest. If a rep needs to spend some time on the phone to adequately address a problem, he or she shouldn't have to look at the clock, for fear of being called out because a conversation took longer than desired.

Don't encourage reps to upsell as a solution. Yes, there are situations where spending more money or making some other commitment can resolve an issue. However, this needs to be handled carefully. If a customer feels that they're being manipulated to spend more money, two results generally follow:

1) Resentment that they're being bent over to generate more revenues; 2) Establishment of the belief that spending more money will solve any future problem, when in many cases it can't--exacerbating the frustration at not seeing satisfactory follow-through.

Emphasize the importance of reviewing customer history--looking at such factors as longevity, timely payments, previous complaints/interactions --to get a snapshot of the person on the other end of the customer service interaction. Bluntly put, a rep seeing someone who's constantly "crying wolf" and asking for discounts to make the problem go away (then paying late) should be handled far differently than a truly loyal longtime customer with a legitimate problem. While everyone deserves the opportunity for resolution, it should be viewed in light of previous interactions - and solutions offered in light of them.

Once again, none of this is rocket science. But, just as the pendulum had drifted way too far in one direction with officious customer service, being overly solicitous creates a whole new set of problems. Aristotle advocated "everything in moderation." It's a good starting point for a balanced customer service program.

Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels, an all-digital custom label printer in Denver, CO, USA, since 2008. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label printing news.
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Title Annotation:CUSTOMER Service
Author:Lusky, Mark
Publication:Label & Narrow Web
Date:Oct 1, 2016
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