In 2008 a young musician named Dave Carroll was flying with his band from Halifax Nova Scotia to Omaha Nebraska. He wrapped his Taylor guitar carefully and placed it in a hard carry case. He labelled it is fragile and handed over to the airline. At the stopover in Chicago a passenger behind him said, “Oh my God, they’re throwing guitars out there. “  He informed three employees at the time but was met with indifference on his arrival at Omaha he unwrapped his beloved guitar to find that the base was severely dented.

This started a 12 month ordeal. United airlines refused to take any responsibility for the damage caused and despite Dave’s best efforts he had to fork out $1200 to repair his guitar.

Dave was not happy. So he and his band wrote a song about it. The song was entitled ‘United Breaks Guitars.’ They put together a fun video and posted it on YouTube. In the first day it amassed 150,000 views. To date song video has been seen 19,437,000 times. 

In the past if the customer was upset they may tell 10 people, today they tell 20 million. 

Prevention is better than cure

There are three things that will make or break your customer service: Systems, attitude and training

  • Systems

Systems are the protocols and procedures that we use to help our organisations operate and flourish. They can also confuse, anger, alienate and frustrate customers. The worst response anybody can give a frustrated customer is “It’s our policy.” 

  • Attitude

In customer service attitude is everything. The advice; ‘Hire for attitude and train for skills’ hold true. An employee’s positive ‘can-do’ attitude can take a tricky situation and turn it around to benefit both the customer and the organisation.

  • Training

Staff training is important not just for giving staff the skills to deal with tricky situations, but more importantly empowering them to be able to make decisions to prevent customer problems from occurring. Richard Branson famously said “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees they will take care of the clients.”

Where to start

Start by approaching your business with fresh eyes and conducting a customer care audit. 

If you treat patients with cataracts, sit in your car park and put on some blurry goggles. Notice how tricky it is to navigate steps with poor vision. What about the font size on the form you ask people to fill out? Is the door easy to open? Are signs clearly visible with people with poor vision? How does your receptionist meet and greet people and make them feel at ease.

Your goal is to seek out ‘mosquitoes’. Mosquitoes are small things that annoy customers. They may not be life-threatening, but they nibble away at us and make us increasingly uncomfortable! 

Fix the problem, now fix the feeling

When a complaint occurs you should approach the customer with radical empathy. Remember complaints are a gift. Research shows that only one in 25 people will complain. This is an opportunity for you to do better. 

Practice these steps:

  1. Listen
    • With your heart as well as your head. You want to try and look beyond the emotion and uncover the pain point underneath
  2. Radical empathy
    • Put yourself in the customer shoes and see this problem with fresh eyes.
  3. Apologise
    • And agree where possible. Often this is what people need. They want to be heard, to be seen and to be recognised.
  4. Take action
    • Don’t leave this to somebody else. Ask them what outcome they would like and if you can’t deliver that find alternative
  5. Follow-up
    • Find the cause of this pain point and address it. Report back to the customer and tell them the action you have taken

Tiny steps to make a difference. Just as checklists work in a surgical theatre, they can also help your team create a better customer experience. A hospital in San Diego instigated a “One Different Thing” program with their 15,000 staff. They encouraged everybody from the cleaners and orderlies, through to the physicians and surgeons to practice putting one small change into action each day that will have a positive impact on patient care. This resulted in a 6 percentile improvement in patient experience scores, with one unit having a 20 percentile improvement in assessment of clerk’s helpfulness.  

We think of customer care as something “Nice to have, but not essential.” Research shows that customer care is having an impact on businesses bottom line. Experience from the US healthcare market demonstrated that better patient experiences led to better financial performance through increased market share. Taking customer complaints seriously and actioning them appropriately is a win-win for all.

Sharon Ferrier
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