Friday, May 20, 2005

T.I.P.S. 101** Make it Their Problem

Make It Their Problem
By Gil C. Schmidt

The customer starts to complain. Suddenly, the person who’s receiving the complaint—cashier, clerk, waiter, technician—has their face turn to stone, a distant look glazes their eyes and you can almost feel their patience as they wait for the customer to stop talking in order to… pass the buck.

Uh-huh. Happens every day. Let’s look at the stress points in this tableau:

1) The customer: Something’s wrong, they’re upset and they want a solution.
2) The employee or rep: Something’s wrong, the customer’s upset and I can’t do anything about it.
3) The “buck receiver”” The customer’s upset, that person dealing with the customer isn’t handling it and I have to make something good happen… or else.

Some of you are way ahead of me. The problem is arising at stress point 2: I can’t do anything about it. In far too many companies, customer service personnel are not allowed to do very much to really help customers when things go awry. They quickly fall into a pattern of “It’s not my problem,” and instead of trying to help, they bail on the situation.

But if you think they are relieved by this, think again. No one wants to appear incompetent or weak in public. No one likes having their judgment summarily dismissed a priori, as if they could never make the right decision if left to their own devices. And certainly no one likes the feeling of being cast in a subservient role to everyone around them.

The answer is obvious: Make the customer’s problem their problem. Let the clerk, cashier, rep, technician or whoever be responsible for dealing with the matter to a successful conclusion. In the words of the Ritz Carlton’s Employee Mission Card, point #9: “Any employee who receives a guest complaint owns the complaint.” You don’t—you can’t—pass the buck when you have full responsibility.

Can you rely on people to do the right thing? One company is famous for an Employee Manual that consists of a mere two lines: "Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules." That company, Nordstrom, has been a consistent and outstanding leader in customer service for over 20 years.

It has been proven throughout history that if you expect the best from people, you often receive it and more. When you feel in control, or in the buzz word of the 90s, empowered, you know you can do so much more…and you do. All of a sudden, a customer complaint is no longer a moment of irritation to an employee eager to pass it away, but something serious: a chance to show just how much s/he can do to make it better. The change is profound and valuable, to the employee, the customer and ultimately, the company itself.


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