Saturday, September 1, 2012

A New Way of Looking at Problems

I just finished reading Stephen's Covey's "The Third Alternative."  I've always been a big fan of his and I was sad to hear he had passed away.  His "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" changed my life and how I looked at life's problems.  The habit that really resonated with me was #4: Think Win-Win.  I had always thought life was a matter of winning or losing, but he showed me that with enough hard work and cooperation, both parties can win.  This is the premise of "The Third Alternative" -- that parties can reach an agreement that satisfies both.  When that isn't possible, according to Covey, parties should agree to disagree and part ways.

This is very true in customer service.  So many times when a customer has a problem both parties -- the customer service professional and the customer -- approach the problem as win-lose, as customer vs. customer service professional/company.  But I want to propose another approach.  If you're a customer service professional, why not enlist the aid of the customer in solving the problem?  If you're a customer, why not treat the customer service professional as your ally and not your adversary?  In other words, instead of looking at the problem as customer vs. customer service professional, look at it as customer AND customer service professional vs. the problem. Looking at customer service interactions from this perspective greatly increases the synergy (another Covey gem) between the parties and not only gets the work done, but does so in a way that increases customer loyalty.

How do you do this?  First, if you're a customer service professional, assure the customer that you want to help.  James Kirk, in the classic Trek episode City on the Edge of Forever, told Edith Keeler, played by Joan Collins, that the words "Let me help" would one day replace "I love you" as the three most beloved words in the galaxy.  If you are a customer, start your conversation with "I need your help" instead of "you people."  By the way, "you people" is probably the worst thing you can say to a customer service professional.

Second, work with the customer (or customer service professional) to identify the problem and be open to the fact that you, or the company, could be mistaken.  Remember, it's the customer and customer service professional versus the problem, not customer vs. customer service professional.

Finally, work out an amicable solution.  If that's not possible, as a customer you may decide it's time to take your business elsewhere (or just chalked it up as a "lesson learned") or as a customer service professional, it might be time to escalate the call to someone who can take their time with the customer and who has the authority to bend the rules (although I believe customer service professionals should have great leeway when it comes to bending rules).  Either way, you don't have to count it is a loss to anything but the problem.  And realistically, some problems (and some customers) are insurmountable.  I know we like to think we can solve every problem and make every customer happy, but we can't.  However, taking this approach will greatly increase the number of satisfied -- and loyal -- customers.

Next time you're faced with a problem, either in business or your personal life, try to go for win-win and try to see the problem as customer AND customer service professional (or you and your spouse) vs. the problem, not customer vs. customer service professional.

Tashi Delek!