Make problem solving easy for your customers

It’s often said that the best way to increase customer retention is to 'delight' your customers. In my opinion this is generally true, but research conducted by Harvard Business School suggests that, before getting to the stage of delighting your customers, you need to do something even more important: reduce your customer’s effort in solving any problems that they experience.

Over a three year period, research was conducted with 75,000 B2B and B2C customers about their interactions with customer contact centres. The researchers concluded that there is little point in companies trying to delight their customers by making extravagant gestures (such as free gifts) until they had got the basics right. And one of the most basic things companies need to do is to make it easy to solve problems by removing obstacles.

In particular, the researchers found that customers hate having to phone the company repeatedly (or be transferred from one department to another) to get an issue resolved. Customers also resent having to repeat information to different staff, and having to switch from one service channel to another (for example, needing to phone the company after already trying unsuccessfully to solve a problem through the website).

The researchers came up with a checklist of advice for dealing with problems. These included:

1. Don’t just resolve the current issue - head off the next one.
2. Arm your staff to address the emotional side of customer interactions.
3. Use feedback from disgruntled or struggling customers to reduce customer effort.
4. Empower your front line staff to deliver a low-effort experience.

Of course, the Harvard research makes the assumption that your customers are experiencing a problem. The much more important point is to make sure they never experience a problem in the first place!

But when problems do arise, the important thing to remember is that customers primarily want to get a quick and easy resolution to the issue, not a belated 'grand gesture' by way of apology.

Customer complaints are never a good thing. But when you do get them, the best way to keep your customer loyal is to simply solve their problem with the least possible hassle.

Dixon, M. Freeman K. Toman, N. (2014). Stop Trying to Delight Your Customer, Harvard Business Review. July - August 2010