Customer Support is Not Only About Solving Problems

It’s about restoring the trust that has been broken. Terry White of Omdia discusses how to unpack this important concept.

Ever wondered why customers get hold of your support services? If you haven’t, go sit in the corner. If you have, why do you think they do? To get information? Get their problem solved? Or just to sound off at your staff?

The answer is all and none of the above.

Understand that customers don’t want to contact you and get support. They are forced to do so by some failure of your product or a lack of information from you. You have broken the “contract” to provide what they were expecting. Customers get hold of support because they have to – it’s a grudge action. When last did you get an email or call saying, “Hi guys, just checking in. Hope all’s well with you?”

The bottom line is that customers don’t want to contact you, and if your service is slow, below par, rude, or just indifferent, they’ll probably never contact you again because they won’t use your services or products again. And while your service metrics might look good, they say nothing about lost customers, negative referrals, or trashing of your brand on social networks.

Even if your customer support metrics are outstanding, with excellent resolution rates, ticket handling times, CSATs, and customer effort scores, you may be missing the boat. Because while customer service may look like it’s about solving problems, it’s not only about that. It’s about restoring trust in the contract that you’ve broken.

And restoring trust is about empathy, listening, and being dependable (that’s where problem-solving comes in). The issue is that most customer service tools and systems focus on tracking and solving problems. They don’t provide empathy, deep listening, or trust restoration capabilities.

Let’s start with a customer accessing your support services. It’s a grudge action, so they are in a negative frame of mind already. An empathetic approach is just the start – it may stop a customer from becoming more frustrated or angry. You still haven’t solved the problem or regained trust.

Of course, chatbots, contact us forms, and FAQ lists don’t have empathy – that only comes from humans. Nevertheless, these tools go a long way toward allowing your customer to serve themselves, and they do a great deal in skimming a significant load away from your support people. They shouldn’t be discounted; they should, however, be seen for what they are – shortcuts to customer self-service.

Many customers are happy with helping themselves to the answer, and you’ll hear no more from them. This is a solution – you help customers solve their problems – and an issue. Not hearing from your customers is never good – especially when they’re frustrated or angry.

Some businesses map their customer journey. They identify every interaction a profile customer has with the organization – from finding information on their website, ordering and buying their product, to getting after-sales service and support. But here’s the thing – they also identify the probable emotions the customer might feel at each stage. Customer journeys are about knowing what your customers do and feel when interacting with you. And clever businesses provide the correct capabilities to deal with customer actions and feelings. One of the capabilities they develop is empathy.

“Capabilities” are a little more complex than we think. They are a combination of skills, knowledge, resources, and capacity. Skills are held by people who have the necessary competence and ability. Knowledge is an understanding of the broader domain, like who can be contacted and why we are doing something. Resources are the tools, systems, and infrastructures needed to get the job done, and capacity is the time, will, and authority to do the job.

If empathy were a capability, we’d teach our support people how to be empathetic. We’d give them the knowledge as to why empathy is essential and where it fits into the support and service role. We would, of course, provide the tools and budget needed to get the job done empathetically. And we would give them time to listen, understand, and respond. We would also give them the authority to act on what they heard from the customer.

Any discussion about customer service should deal with “form” and “function.” Form is the tools, structures, and capabilities, but function pertains to whether the form fits the purpose and achieves the goals.

You can have all the customer service tools and capabilities you wish, but are you providing excellent customer service? I once asked the financial director of a bank whether they provided good customer service. Of course, his answer was, “Yes.” So I talked about the difference between form and function and asked him again. He said, “That’s interesting; let me get back to you.” A week later, I received an email from him saying that their customer service had the form but not enough function for his liking. An “aha” moment for him, I hope.

That brings us to why businesses use technology to help them with customer service. Most companies buy and implement customer support technologies but focus on the incorrect objectives – mostly efficiency and cost-cutting. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, they often ignore or don’t even recognize that customers only want their problems solved quickly and with empathy. Another customer support objective that may not be considered is getting customer feedback. CSAT and NPS ratings are a small portion of customer feedback. You also want customers to offer opinions and ideas on new products and improvements. And customers will only volunteer these suggestions if they feel they will be heard. And we’re back to empathy and listening.

So here are the set of goals for customer support and the technologies used to provide these services:

  • First, solve the problem quickly and efficiently.
  • Second, rebuild trust by providing the capabilities to listen, understand, and empathize with customers.
  • And third, use customer services to hear and act on your customers’ opinions, suggestions, and ideas.

The three customer support goals – problem-solving, empathy, and customer engagement – should drive a different agenda in your organization.

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