The Implications of Reacting vs. Responding In A Customer Service Environment

I read Dennis Snow’s most recent blog with interest and it really struck a chord with me.  He recalled a comment by a manager he was working with, Jim Oakley, who said to the assembled training group “When dealing with any situation, it’s important to understand the difference between responding and reacting.

When we respond,” Jim continued, “there is some thought behind our actions. When we react, we’re just making it up.”
How often have we found ourselves in the same situation of “reacting” rather than “responding”?  In other words, making it up rather than adding some value.
Dennis also recounted a story of a visit to an electronics store to purchase speakers. To paraphrase, the member of staff he interacted with was “surly, indifferent, unhelpful, knowledge poor….” A perfect example of a very poor reaction from a member of staff and the impact it had on him as a customer. Fortunately on this occasion the situation was recovered by another staff
member.

That is not likely to always be the case of course. The reality is customer retention is a critical issue for businesses at anytime, but particularly so when new business is that bit harder to come by.  Consider too the cost of new business acquisition vs. the cost of retention and it should be a no brainer.  Customer retention drives sustainable profitability. So “reaction” as described by Jim is all of a sudden the customer service equivalent of swine flu.
The staff that we employ in our stores, our contact centres, our banks and our restaurants all have a profound effect on the customer experience every time they interact.  But do we pay enough attention as to how they manage this interaction?  For sure there is a whole training & consulting industry that has grown on the back of this but in these times of economic hardship do we all have the resources needed to invest in the technologies, the training?

So does it have to be that a significant investment is needed?
Markus Smet of Humanshaped Ltd put forward the philosophy that “The way to a good “response” is to cast aside any notion that the conversation you’re having is about you, and just listen….assess the customer experience through experience design…& get the CSRs to see the world from a customer’s perspective”.
Mark Millard of Blue Concept Training ventured that “people as a rule don’t plan to do a bad job.
Very often the problem is when customer service agents become battle weary and tired and this is often a result of poor personal de-briefing habits”.  In essence he asserts that the key is to avoid negative and destructive de-brief, working with the staff to think about how they like to be treated as a customer.
And I think that establishing the customer perspective is the critical point here.  In a previous organisation I inherited a function that was full of enthusiasm and drive, that truly wanted to succeed. It WANTED to serve the customer in the best way possible. It just wasn’t too sure how.  The real challenge for the staff was that they weren’t thinking like customers in that they
didn’t actively consider the customer’s experience every time a call came through to the support desk, an email arrived in the inbox or a system went down on customer site. This became my mantra for the organisation and the corner stone of the revised strategy I
implemented – it was simply about placing the customer at the heart of what we did, every minute of every day.  The delivery mechanism was straightforward and through a number of workshops and discussion groups, I got the staff to really think about what they would want to experience as a customer of our business.

We considered a number of fundamental areas:
*    communication
*    process interaction
*    timing
*    managing failure
*    management information
*    promoting & rewarding success.

The results were not a massive surprise to anybody. After all, we are all customers every day…but perhaps very rarely are you a customer of your own company.  The resultant mindset change was off the scale.   The outcome was that we quickly evolved to a customer centric, customer experience led support organisation that absolutely understood how every interaction
shaped the customer experience and thus the satisfaction ratings on which so many of our performance measures where dependant.
The fundamental change was rapidly felt by the clients due to the shift in approach and style.

Underpinned by a full training & development plan for all the front line staff, more real-time support from their management and targeted system functionality changes the positive impact was palpable.  The other key thing here is that this was pretty much a “free solution” and thus music to the CEO’s ears.

I’d summarise the transition as:
Stage 1.  Customer  Empathetic Staff
Stage 2.  Educated & Empowered Staff
Stage 3.  Motivated & Engaging Staff
Stage 4.  Enhanced Customer Satisfaction
Stage 5.  Enhanced Customer Retention

This differing approach will in time build stronger, more productive relationships with the client base. I also genuinely feel that this will naturally engender a more empathetic  “response oriented” attitude to issue & problem management by the organisation. i.e. one that a customer will never perceive as simply a knee jerk “reaction”.
Dennis Snow’s Blog can be found here   http://www.cli.gs/rrvZNY

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