Not long ago, I received a phone call from a customer who was very frustrated that something hadn't gone the way she planned on her conference call. Her participants had been on mute, they were not able to speak, and she could not figure out how the conference had ended up in that setting. As she spoke, I ran through all of the possible things that could have caused the issue. By the time she was done telling me what happened I had a pretty good idea of what caused the issues on her conference call.
That didn't mean that I was about to take over the conversation and tell her exactly what I suspected. I have a very specific thought process when I'm problem solving with customers and always follow three basic rules.
Remember that the company is guilty until proven innocent. We frequently get calls from customers who have typed in the wrong code. This prevents them from joining their conference and they will call us to see what we can do to help. When we get one of those calls from customers, the first thing we check is within our own system. We check our side to make sure everything is good to go first. This kind of information will help us diagnose the problem the customer is having and we are the cause until we can find out otherwise.
Don't talk down to customers. Once we have determined that everything is okay from our side, it's time to ask the customer some more questions. It's an imperative part of problem solving, but the golden rule here is to not talk down to the customer. When one of our clients is having a problem, it's getting in the way of them conducting business, and they need our help, not a tone that would make a customer feel that I’m secretly saying "I told you so". It’s much more important that we offer solutions to the customer than to prove the customer wrong.
Don't blame the customer. This is a fine line with the customer because you, as the company representative, know that the system wasn't at fault and you're relieved, but it's important to remember that until you hang up the phone, you have to help the customer. It's important that I tell the customer how to prevent the same problem, and not what they should have done to not have a problem in the first place.
Problem solving with a customer can become a he said / she said event if you allow it. I've found that when it comes to a problem, most customers don't want to get upset, they just want you to tell them what is wrong and either fix it – or tell them how to fix it.
How do you approach problem solving with customers?
In a given day you make hundreds of decisions. What time to wake up. What to wear. What to eat for breakfast. New research published in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has discovered that each decision taxes our brain’s ability to make decisions, so that as the day wears on and we make more and more decisions, our ability to ponder different options and choose wisely becomes hindered.
In the NAS study, they offered the following example (via the New York Times). Three Israeli prisoners went before a parole board on the same day. Prisoner 1: An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud. Case was heard at 8:50 a.m. Prisoner 2: A Jewish Israeli service a 16-month sentence for assault. Case was heard at 3:10 p.m. Prisoner 3: An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud. Case was heard at 4:25 p.m. Of the three prisoners, can you guess which one was paroled? The researchers analyzed 1,100 decisions over the course of the year. In their research they found a pattern: prisoners whose cases were heard early in the morning received parole 70 percent of the time.
Prisoners whose cases were heard late in the day were paroled 10 percent of the time. True to this statistic, the prisoner whose case was heard at 8:50 a.m. was the only one who was paroled, despite his case being very similar to that of the prisoner who appeared at 4:25. For the late prisoner, the judges’ brains had given up. Their ability to make tough decisions had been sapped. Studies similar to the above have been duplicated time and time again. In another instance, for example, people on a diet were offered M&Ms and chocolate-chip cookies throughout the day. A control group was offered nothing of the sort throughout the day.
Later both groups were given difficult geometry puzzles to solve. Researchers found overwhelmingly that the group who hadn’t forced themselves to turn down chocolate-chip cookies and M&Ms all day, the group who hadn’t sapped their will power, were able to stick with the problems and more likely to solve them than the other group. The M&M- and chocolate-chip-cookie group simply gave up more easily. So what can these findings teach us about making decisions in our own lives? Here are a few things to try
- Schedule important decisions in the morning – In the morning your mind is fresh and ready to think. Your decision ability hasn’t been drained.
- Make decisions on a full stomach – Giving your brain a dose of glucose, which is contained in food, can recharge your decision-making ability and your willpower. (Unfortunately, a catch 22 for dieters!)
- Establish habits which avoid things that test your willpower – For instance, schedule a workout time so you go every day, no matter what. This makes it a habit, something you don’t have to force yourself to do, which eliminates the mental effort of making choices.
- Schedule downtime in between important decisions – Simply allowing your brain some time to idle will give your willpower a chance to recharge.