There are lots of quotes about making mistakes, undoubtedly because we all mess up sometimes. Personally, my favorite of these quotes is “It’s not how we make mistakes, it’s how we correct them that defines us,” and this couldn’t be truer when it comes to customer service. Organizations put a lot of emphasis on avoiding mistakes, focusing intently on quality assurance programs and processes with an aim for perfection . However, studies show that in customer service, making the mistake isn’t what really impacts customer loyalty; rather, it’s all about how the mistake is handled and how things are made “right.”
Roughly half of customers indicate that their customer service interaction was centered on trying to resolve a problem or issue. That’s a lot of issues! Our same study showed that customers put a lot of weight on first-time resolution of those issues. So while you should still invest effort in avoiding mistakes, you should spend equal effort in defining and reinforcing your issue resolution processes.
I have experienced this mistake-loyalty paradox in my own life on various occasions. One such example was with a major online retailer. I ordered a jacket before a ski trip, and when the jacket arrived it was not the size I’d ordered. Since I’d procrastinated in ordering, the retailer’s mistake meant that I wouldn’t have a jacket to take when I left for my trip the following night. When I called, the customer service agent was profusely apologetic. To rectify the problem, they overnighted me the correct size at no cost, and gave me a large credit for my next purchase. I was so impressed, and that retailer has since become my first choice when purchasing outdoor apparel. Additionally, you can guarantee that when I talk about their brand, I don’t fixate on the mistake they made, but rather how they resolved it for me.
When defining your service recovery processes, there are a few things to consider. It might be time for your contact center to shift its focus from obsessing over issue avoidance and focusing on issue resolution!
All channels are not created equal
Different channels are more effective than others when trying to resolve customer issues. While self-service, chat and email may work well for resolving simple issues, more complicated issues may be best addressed via voice channel. According to the inContact Customer Experience Transformation Benchmark Study, “phone is the most effective method of resolution with over 8 in 10 who spoke to a live rep saying their issue is resolved – and over 8 in 10 saying it was handled the first time.”
Of course, organizations can’t always control through which channel a customer initially makes contact, but with good training, processes, and an omnichannel platform, your agent can easily escalate the issue to a phone call based on issue complexity before the customer becomes more frustrated or angry.
Agent empowerment is part of the process
Since every customer issue is unique, one can assert that every solution might also be unique. While it is possible to anticipate potential issues and create processes to address each scenario, agents should also be empowered to confidently handle outliers, within specified guidelines. In my previous example, the agent didn’t have to put me on hold multiple times or call their supervisor. Rather, they were empowered to resolve my issue and provide me a certain credit value without additional approval, which resulted in a quick, easy, and low-effort experience for me. Tracking and reporting on the resolutions delivered by agents helps you ensure that they are keeping your customers happy without giving away the farm.
We repeat what we don’t repair
Just because customers may be more loyal after a well-handled issue doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable to keep making the same mistake time and again. Thus, after your agent positively resolves the problem, they must have a mechanism to log the problem, its root cause, and the resolution. This will empower analysis and process improvement efforts, especially since many of the issues that customer service resolves are problems created up or downstream from the contact center. In my jacket example, the mistake occurred in the warehouse or shipping department, so supervisors in that function had to be made aware so that they could coach the associate who picked and packed the box in order to avoid that mistake again. Thus, it’s critical that those problems be communicated back to the appropriate functional groups.