By Paul Hesselschwerdt, Global Partners Training
Good and bad customer feedback will always be essential for service organizations. However, most companies’ point-of-service transaction surveys and customer satisfaction questionnaires fail to help frontline service people understand how to change their behaviors to become trusted partners to their customers. At Global Partners Training, we have implemented self-assessments with thousands of frontline service providers that enable individual service engineers and technicians to grasp these key behaviors.
6 Questions Align With 3 Key Shifts
Believe it or not, just six simple questions can enable service people to determine how to change their behavior and create trusted partner relationships with customers. The questions are aligned with three “shifts” in the thinking and behavior of the service provider.
- Shift 1: Being Proactive requires a change from being mostly reactive to customer requests to anticipating what customers will need to avoid problems, achieve their goals, etc., and then act without being asked.
- Shift 2: Getting to Real Issues means getting beyond the visible, usually technical issues of a situation to determining the hidden, often emotional issues that prevent the customer from being satisfied, and then acting to address both technical and non-technical issues.
- Shift 3: Reaching a Balanced Outcome comes into play when confronted with an unreasonable or impossible request from a customer that requires the service provider to say, “No” without sounding unhelpful, and then collaborating with the customer to find a solution that is both reasonable and possible to provide.
For each shift, there are two questions that the service provider can ask about their own behavior and the customer’s reaction to their behavior.
For Shift 1, service providers should ask themselves:
- What percentage of the time do you communicate an alternative to customers’ requests? followed by…
- What percentage of the time do customers accept your proposed alternatives?
The first question reveals whether the engineer is focused on proactively applying their knowledge of the customer and the technology to help the customer succeed versus merely delivering the service requested. Is the service engineer meeting the customer’s basic needs or working to delight the customer?
The second question is equally revealing. If the service engineer is proactively trying to help customers, but feels that customers rarely or never accept their proposals, it could be because the customer thinks the service person doesn’t have very valuable ideas. Or it could be that the ideas are not being communicated clearly. Either possibility can direct the service person to an area of improvement in their own behavior.
We remember when one of our clients had an interesting mix of answers to these two questions. Senior project managers scored themselves low on the first question, yet higher on the second. In other words, project managers felt they did not proactively propose alternatives to the customers. However, when they did, the customers accepted their proposals most of the time. Clearly, customers trusted the project managers and appreciated their expertise, but the project managers weren’t offering these well-received alternatives as often as they could have.
For Shift 2: Getting to the Real Issues, service providers should ask themselves:
- What percentage of the time do you create an open dialogue with customers, using questions and active listening? followed by…
- What percentage of the time does the customer reveal insights into all issues (non-technical as well as technical), including hidden emotional issues?
In our experience, most respondents will claim that they do encourage open dialogue with customers. However, these same providers nearly always admit customers will not spontaneously reveal their hidden emotional state or other background issues that might be key to solving the real problem at hand. Understanding that there is an appropriate and learnable way to probe customers for deeper, non-technical information, is a powerful insight for service people who thought they were already hitting the limits of their problem-solving capabilities.
And finally, for Shift 3: Reaching a Balanced Outcome, service providers should ask themselves when managing complex customer problems:
- What percentage of the time do you confront customers directly, letting them know their proposal is either unreasonable or impossible? followed by…
- What percentage of the time are customers willing to slow down and engage in more thorough discussions to achieve a better long-term solution?
The service person here develops a powerful awareness of how often under duress they can initiate a collaborative discussion with the customer and how often they can achieve a better solution for the customer than was first apparent. Service people come to realize that with the requisite communication skills, they can “push back” appropriately and effectively, and without sounding unhelpful. Interestingly, training participants report that calming the customer and helping them to focus on reasonable/possible solutions to complex problems can often result in significant revenue opportunities.
By asking these 6 Questions and understanding the 3 Shifts, not only do individual service people see a path to delivering better long-term solutions for their customers but the potential for becoming a trusted business partner with customers is greatly enhanced.
At Global Partners Training, we typically use self-assessments as a baseline to help service people determine priority areas for skills improvement, and the same assessment is also done after the service provider has completed their training and implementation plans. For the thousands of service people who have followed this approach, not only have their underlying skills improved (often significantly), but very often service people report that customers have changed their behavior as well.
To learn more about the concepts discussed in this article or service skills improvement training, contact Global Partners Training at www.globalpartnerstraining.com.
About The Author
Paul Hesselschwerdt is a partner at Global Partners Training. During more than 30 years in the training industry, he has designed and implemented programs in customer service, sales and marketing, and project management across a range of industries, including healthcare, industrial equipment, and high technology. For additional insights, please visit https://globalpartnerstraining.com/