Customer Service Part III

Despite our best efforts and our good use of customer service techniques, our attempts can seem to be for nothing. Behaviors we thought we had influenced positively or correctly can regress. In the third part of our series on Customer Service, we'll be examining the ways to deal with difficult people by using the Three F's of good customer service along with analyzing the various strategies for reducing conflict in specific situations.

The ability to peel a situation back to its core takes patience and precision. Sometimes we do not do this because it can take time to uncover the real problem. We can often find ourselves in too much of a hurry to do this properly. At other times, our emotions get involved and we make a decision that we really don't want to go there because we'll also have to deal with what is bothering us. 

If you don't stop to think about the big picture, you'll end up either missing the problem or going after too many problems at once. To stop yourself from being over-involved, you must be able to state the problem in a single sentence. If you make it longer, your conversation will lose focus as soon as it starts.

To get to the heart of the problem, evaluate the Three F'sfacts, frequency, and frustrated relationships.

  1. Facts: what are the facts of the issue? Create a list so that you dod not get sidetracked while you plan your conversation. Don't drag in other stories or unrelated issues that have happened previously. If you are talking to someone about a shipping problem, stick to that and leave quality or customer service issues out of it.
  2. Frequency:  Make sure you have a very clear history of the frequency of the issue and any patterns. For example, if they say they'be called the customer service line "tons of times," get an exact number, with dates and times if possible.
  3. Frustrated Relationships: If your real concern is about the relationship, but you only focus on the pattern, then you are not likely to get the change that you are aiming for. You have to discuss what is important to you in terms of the relationship. Remember: the ability to peel an issue back to its core takes patience and precision.

Once you've evaluated the problem based on the Three F's you are ready to start solving the problem. Below are the six steps of problem-solving.

  1. Define the Problem
    • Discuss symptoms (especially if the problem is unknown).
    • Discuss size (or seriousness) and impact (effect) of the problem.
    • Determine the exact wording of the problem in question form.
    • Define terms in the question.
  2. Research and Analyze the Problem
    • List topics that need to be researched or discussed, including causes and past efforts to solve the problem.
    • Research the problem if necessary.
    • Discuss the research in an organized way.
    • State the first topic to be discussed.
  3. Establish a Checklist of Criteria
    • List all possible criteria and give everyone a chance to respond.
    • Discuss each criterion.
    • Reduce the list to a workable length by combining criteria where possible.
    • Rank remaining criteria from most to least important.
  4. List Possible Alternatives
    • Think outside the box. This means you have permission to get creative and find alternatives that are outside what we usually think  of.
    • These are just possibilities, so list anything that comes to mind.
  5. Evaluate Each Alternative
    • Read through the list of alternatives, eliminating those that obviously do not meet the criteria agreed on in the third step.
    • reduce the list further by combining any similar alternatives.
    • Discuss each remaining alternative's pros and cons, referring to research presented in the second step when necessary.
    • Determine how well each alternative meets the criteria (according to the number of criteria and importance of each).
    • Continue reducing the list until the best alternative (or alternatives) is reached.
  6. Select the Best Alternatives as Your Solution and Discuss How to Implement Them
    • Outline the who, what, when, where, and how.
    • Make sure you consider all people involved.
    • You may want to develop contingency plans.

If you evaluate with the Three F's and use the six steps outlined above to address the problem then you will be in a good position to rectify the issue efficiently.