By Paul Hesselschwerdt, Global Partners
Solving a customer’s problem is, of course, a fundamental goal for every service person. Sometimes, however, it can be literally impossible to solve the customer’s problem, particularly in highly technical environments where a satisfactory solution to a technical problem does not exist – at least not at the time. Often the situation is made worse because the supplier has made commitments to deliver a technical solution only to find that they have overestimated their ability to meet their commitments.
In these situations, it is often the technical service support people who are placed in the difficult position of keeping the customer happy while at the same time keeping the pressure on their own company to deliver what’s been promised.
It is precisely in these situations where frontline customer service people can have the biggest impact on customer loyalty. In the face of a potential customer disaster, they can quite literally save the relationship and the business.
Take the case of Sameer, a customer support manager for a global telecom network provider. Sameer’s company was at the leading edge of new technologies in network systems. Customer projects tended to involve highly innovative new technologies and consequently were often delayed in their implementation. This was the case with Sameer’s project which had been delayed by many months due to early-stage architecture design issues. Subsequent phases had stalled again due to performance issues in the system. At this point, the customer’s business was impacted directly, as was the rollout of subsequent project phases.
The R&D experts at the network provider continuously provided Sameer with estimates of when the technical problems would be solved – and repeatedly missed those milestones. Naturally, the customer was increasingly frustrated and angry at the missed dates and was threatening to switch the project to another supplier.
Save the Relationship – Save the Business
Initially, Sameer felt stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. He knew that his company’s technology was not yet capable of providing the solution the customer had expected. Sameer spent months, alternatively negotiating with the customer for more time for his company to resolve the technical problems and with his colleagues in R&D to work faster. Nevertheless, Sameer was feeling that it was more and more likely that the customer was going to switch to a different supplier.
Instead of giving up, Sameer tried a different approach. Since the technical solution the customer wanted was not possible, maybe some alternatives would help the customer to achieve their ‘big picture’ business goals and were available now. Sameer realized that his customer counterpart was likely feeling the same pressure from his company to complete the project as he was. He wanted to find a way for both he and his counterpart to create a win, despite the difficulties with the new technologies.
First, Sameer engaged with internal stakeholders in R&D. He explained the customer’s big picture to his colleagues in R&D and asked for their ideas on alternatives that could help the customer improve the performance of their current system.
Simultaneously, Sameer reached out to the customer’s key stakeholder groups, including customer service and end users who were most affected by the delays. He asked them to prioritize the problems with their current system and further asked them which issues needed to be addressed most urgently.
Sameer brought together representatives of these customer stakeholders and his R&D groups together to share ideas for alternative solutions to the various problems created by the project’s technical delays. The outcome of these discussions was a set of alternatives which he classified into Immediate Win, Medium Term, and Long-Term Fixes and gained the customer’s agreement to implement them in a suggested order.
Ultimately, the customer continued the project with Sameer’s company. Sameer’s approach not only prevented the customer from switching suppliers but increased the customer’s trust in Sameer and his company.
Technical service and support people often feel that their role is only to provide technical solutions. Therefore, when a technical solution isn’t possible, they may simply give up on trying to satisfy the customer, which can lead to losing significant business. Three capabilities can make the difference between losing and keeping the business and the customer.
- Understanding the customer’s big picture which can lead to alternative solutions (something we call ‘big picture workarounds’) that help the customer achieve their goals.
- A network of relationships within the customer and their own organization that can be engaged in discussions of alternative solutions.
- Relationship skills such as credibility and empathy that enable service and support people to have open, honest discussions with customers in situations when emotions run high.
Sameer’s case provides a powerful example of how these capabilities can ensure that a customer support person who does have these skills will not only save the relationship but the business as well. Click on this link to learn more about the importance of non-technical skills for technical support people, https://globalpartnerstraining.com/technical-skills-are-no-longer-enough-for-service-organizations/.
About The Author
Paul Hesselschwerdt has been a senior executive in training and consulting firms for more than 30 years. He has designed and implemented programs in customer service, sales and marketing, leadership, and project management across a range of industries, including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and high technology. For additional insights, please visit www.globalpartnerstraining.com