Developing a Customer First Mindset: B is for Problem Solving

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Jai is a customer care representative for a popular travel website, BookMyTravel.com. He is on a call with Meera, a customer who had booked a sea facing, premium room for four days using the BookMyTravel website. She arrived at the hotel to find that she was allotted a garden facing premium room. Meera is quite unhappy with the situation. “I am sorry, but, the room is unavailable due to maintenance work ma’am” explained Jai. “It’s our first wedding anniversary and it is a very special trip. I have already paid the room tariff for a sea facing room. It’s your problem that the room is undergoing maintenance. Please move us to a premium room right away”, urged Meera. No other sea facing premium rooms were vacant in the hotel at the moment so, Jai tried to find other possible solutions.

“Even though all sea facing premium rooms are booked right now, there is one available after two days. If you can stay in the allotted room for today and tomorrow, we could move you to the sea facing premium room for the third and fourth day of your stay with us”, said Jai. “No, that will not work. The tariff for this room is much lesser than what I have paid”, exclaimed Meera. “I understand ma’am, would you like to stay in the allotted, garden facing, premium room for all four days and we will compensate the difference amount with any hotel service or meal of your choice”, inquired Jai. “That is not fair. This is not a great room. We were looking forward to a peaceful trip, this is the last thing I need right now”, said Meera.

Although Meera was very unhappy, Jai did not let that affect him and continued looking for other possible options, “I’m very sorry about this ma’am. The best option I can suggest is, if you stay in your allotted room for today, we will move you to a top floor garden facing suite tomorrow. It is a little more expensive than the sea facing premium room, but we will waive the charges as an apology for the inconvenience caused”. Meera checks with her husband and agreed to the option. She thanked Jai for his help. In this case, although Jai was not able to provide a solution to the customers’ problem, he managed to provide a satisfactory alternative. This is the essence of problem-solving.

Problem-solving in Customer service

“Solving problems in customer service is not about providing the customer with their desired outcome. It is the creative generation of plausible, useful options that they could use” (Dr Jagdip Singh). At Skills Café, we break down problem-solving into the following four behaviours.

  • Challenge the status quo – Most service executives provide canned responses which can further aggravate the customer. Customers don’t care about your processes, they care about the solutions and the alternatives that you can suggest.
  • Find unique options – Generate many alternative solutions for the customer to choose from. Explore all the options available. It’s important to understand what can and cannot be done while you suggest the options.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed – If the customer is angry or abusive, understand their predicament. Stay focused on the problem and try to find a solution. Be hard on problems and soft on people.
  • Take responsibility – Remember ‘the ‘buck stops at you’. Take ownership of solving the problem or direct the customer to someone who can.

Empathy is essential for building rapport with the customer (covered in part 1 of this series), but at most times customers don’t want someone to just empathize with them, they want alternatives and solutions. Hence, it is important for customer service executives to understand their internal processes and leverages to create multiple viable solutions for the customer to choose from. The customer may not choose any of the options that are provided, but, their understanding of what you are trying to do with the given constraints will increase their satisfaction.

What research says

There is tons of research that shows the importance of effective problem-solving in customer service. A few are listed below:

In the next article, we will explore the third key component of developing a customer first mindset, Mindful communication.

Skills Café runs a high impact, boardgame based workshop on developing a customer first mindset. You can read more about the workshop here – http://skills.cafe/training/customer-service-training.html