In Customer Service, Apologizing Does NOT Get to the Root Cause
Here's a good article from the WSJ about customer focus and quality improvement:
“All too often, companies have customer service sort out the immediate problem, offer an apology or some compensation, and then assume all is well. This approach is particularly damaging because it does nothing to address the underlying problem, practically guaranteeing similar failures and complaints.”
Of course, if you're just putting the fire out without looking for a root cause or for prevention, you're going to have the same problem occur again. It seems that many organizations respond to each problem (overreact even) as if it's a “special cause” when the problem is really a “common cause” that's a result of some underlying process or system. The article continues:
“The chief aim of managers in service recovery is to help the company learn from service failures so it doesn't repeat them. Learning from failures is more important than simply fixing problems for individual customers, because process improvements increase overall customer satisfaction and thus have a direct impact on the bottom line.”
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That starts sounding like a Lean mindset — a ” kaizen” approach even. There are many examples in the book Lean Solutions (including Fujitsu) where companies were able to turn complaints into the starting point for a real process improvement process. The goal of any complaints department should be to help initiate improvements that drive future complaints to zero.
If employees aren't allowed to help improve the process, they may take a turn for the worse after getting frustrated with the continued complaints:
“Even though complaining customers represent an opportunity to fix problems and improve satisfaction, alienated employees often see them as the enemy. In a study of a major European bank, employees in Switzerland consistently indicated that they did not consider reports of missing account statements to be complaints. As one said: “These things happen. There is nothing we can do about that.”
One way to keep employees engaged and serving customers is to give them some freedom:
“Ritz-Carlton, for example, the luxury brand of Marriott International Inc., authorizes personnel at the front desks of its hotels to credit unhappy customers up to $2,000 without asking a supervisor's approval. On the other hand, in one of our consulting projects, a client reacted very negatively to this approach, claiming that such a policy would be too expensive for his company. We replied that the high cost of poor service is exactly what makes this system work so well: It forces management to eliminate service failures in the first place.”
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Just recently, I complained to a Hampton Inn I was staying at in Illinois (and was booked to stay at again for multiple weeks). The “high-speed” wireless internet service was the furthest thing from high-speed. I complained the first night and the hotel was unable to fix anything. The second night, I called the 800 tech support number and they were unable to fix anything. The third and final night, I received this in my room after complaining and pointing out that I'd have to choose a different hotel for my future weeks if they didn't have good internet access:
It's a bear that says “Beary Sorry” with the Hampton Inn logo on it. Oh, and there was a nice (I suppose) handwritten personal apology note. OK, warm fuzzy feeling. But it did nothing to fix the problem. It did nothing to say what they were going to do to improve the internet access for the next stay.
In fact, having these bears laying around implies that they have so many customer service complaints that they had the special bears made up. It's too bad they can't invest that cash and time into improving the actual service. I'm not going to stay there again just because they gave me a bear.
After canceling my future reservation, I got a voice mail from someone at the hotel. They apologized (again!) for the problem and said they were taking one night's worth of charges off of my bill. OK, great, they are saving my employer some money. But that doesn't tell me what they're doing to fix the problem and doesn't make any sort of case for why I should stay there again.
Basically, they just threw away $129 of revenue. If they had talked to me live and asked what I wanted, “give me a refund” would have been the last thing out of my mouth. You see this a lot on the TV show “Kitchen Nightmares” (now into it's second season). Some manager is comping guests when there's a problem — free appetizer, free dessert, etc. As the WSJ article (and my experience) showed — it's doing nothing to actually fix the problem if you're giving away free desserts every night instead of fixing the underlying problem.
Do you have similar experiences, as a customer or in your business?