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Discovering and Fixing Customer-Service Ills

Replacing knowledgable customer-service reps wasn't an option, so Process Software put its staff through training. Within a month, complaints were down more than 50 percent.

April 23, 2002
Related Topics: Behavioral Training, Basic Skills Training

When Don Frye joined Process Software as manager of technical support andmanagement information systems in August 2001, he quickly found himself in themidst of a customer-service crisis. The company’s meal ticket is a narrowtechnological niche: Internet-related software for business and universitycomputer servers running the VMS platform.

"Basically, we compete against a product that Compaq gives away for free," Frye says. "That’s why for us, customer service is really crucial. We need to demonstrate on a daily basis that we treat people well, so that they'll bemotivated not only to purchase our product but also to purchase tech supportservices from us."

But when Frye received the results of an annual customer-satisfaction survey,he was disheartened to see a number of clients who rated their experience with Process as below their expectations. "I contacted every one of those people,to see what was the matter with us," he says. "It wasn’t the quality oft he product. Basically, the problem was account management. Those customers toldme that they felt forgotten, out of the loop. They were frustrated about having to call repeatedly to get updates on their cases."

Hiring new people with better customer skills wasn't an option for Frye,because the company's veteran tech-support staff had accumulated crucialknowledge that wasn’t easily replaceable. Instead, he brought in an outsideconsultant, Loyalty Factor, to analyze the staff's customer woes and developan individualized prescription for fixing them.

In addition to using the Myers-Briggs test to give employees insight about their own personalities and style of relating to customers, the consultant helped Frye make subtle but important adjustments to the team’s communication with customers. A third of contact with customers was through e-mail, a mode that, because it strips away facial expressions, tone of voice, and othern onverbal cues, conveys only about 7 percent of the intended message.

To reduce the number of misunderstandings, employees were coached to choose their words more carefully and to utilize emotions. To lessen customer frustration, the staff studied "active listening" techniques, learning to repeat and summarize what customers told them. "One of the big benefits isthat it shows people that you’re paying attention to their problems,” Frye says. Follow-up and continuity were other problems that emerged in the analysis, so the staff learned to take more thorough and systematic case notes on calls."That way, when the customer called back, whoever answered the phone could immediately pick up their service without missing a beat."

The fix worked, even better than Frye had hoped. Within a month of tech-support completing its training, complaints were down by more than 50 percent. More important, one of the company’s most critical indicators, the renewal rate for customers, actually rose 2 percent over the previous year.

Workforce, May 2002, p. 30 -- Subscribe Now!

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