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Business Journal
The Silver Lining of Customer Problems (Part 3)
Business Journal

The Silver Lining of Customer Problems (Part 3)

by John Timmerman and Daniela Yu

Story Highlights

  • Customer problems are arguably unavoidable
  • Engaging resolution experiences influence key customer outcomes
  • Companies need comprehensive problem resolution strategies

This is the third article in a four-part series.

To customers, the only thing worse than encountering a problem with a company is having that company botch its attempt to fix it.

This scenario isn't good for the company either. Poor problem resolution experiences are detrimental to business outcomes, including customer engagement, brand perception and future purchase intent. In contrast, customer-centric problem resolution experiences allow a company to undo the damage and then some -- achieving higher customer engagement than it had before the problems occurred.

Unfortunately, few companies handle problems effectively. A 2016 Gallup study found that among the 59% of U.S. adults who experienced at least one problem in the past six months, only 16% had a near-perfect problem resolution experience.

To address this serious shortcoming, companies need to take customer problems seriously by employing a world-class problem resolution strategy.

Part of this involves understanding the principal factors affecting problem resolution. In addition, companies of all sizes and types should follow two cornerstone best practices for engaging problem resolution: leveraging advanced analytics for a tailored strategy and engaging employees for top-notch customer centricity.

Three Key Characteristics of Engaging Problem Resolution

To help leaders across all industries advance their problem resolution strategies, Gallup has identified three key characteristics of highly engaging problem resolution: efficiency, empathy and ease. By applying these best practices based on Gallup's work with hundreds of organizations, companies can turn problems into drivers of engagement.

Efficiency. Customers want companies to acknowledge and resolve their complaints quickly. Efficient problem resolution builds future trust: By demonstrating excellent problem resolution capabilities, companies show customers that they take problems seriously and will move mountains to make things right.

Companies should respond to customer concerns as quickly as possible -- correcting them immediately, when possible, and conveying a sense of timeliness to customers. Leaders should empower employees to provide solutions with minimal assistance from others. For example, one financial services company empowers its bank tellers to waive penalty fees without manager approval for faster resolution, putting customers' needs first.

Empathy. Because customers' emotions are central to their engagement, empathetic processes and people are critical for engaging problem resolution. From having empathetic employees who show genuine concern to developing policies that put customers' interests before those of the business, companies need to not only say they care but also show it.

Regardless of who is at fault, companies should sincerely apologize for every problem. As a rule, resolution processes should follow the age-old adage that the customer is always right. Gallup finds that customers who are highly satisfied with problem resolution experiences feel strongly that the outcomes did not defraud them of money, services or products.

One Gallup client ensures that customers have a caring partner throughout their problem resolution experiences, with a cultural philosophy that "whoever receives the complaint, owns the complaint." Rather than playing "hot potato" with customer problems, this company's employees shepherd problems until they are fully resolved, only seeking assistance from other workers when necessary.

Ease. Companies should ensure that problem resolution requires only minimal effort from customers -- taking the burden off customers' shoulders with service that says, "We'll take it from here." For example, one Gallup client sends automotive technicians to customers' homes and offices to complete simple repairs so customers don't waste hours on a 10-minute fix.

Another winning strategy for streamlined, simplified problem resolution is consistently reinforcing the company's core values and commitment to customer centricity. When employees are trained and equipped to deliver on brand promises each day, they approach problems with a focus on the customer and are driven to surpass customer expectations throughout the resolution process.

Top-notch problem resolution takes advantage of a powerful phenomenon in consumer behavior: increased customer engagement and loyalty after companies make it right. By going above and beyond with every problem, big or small, leaders can turn trouble into triumph.

Bailey Nelson contributed to this article.

The next article in this series highlights the vital role engaged employees play in effectively resolving customer problems.

Sign up for the "Silver Lining of Customer Problems" webinar, during which Gallup experts will share more insights and best practices on how to turn customer problems into drivers of engagement.

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