Seemingly random activity looks desperate and erodes customer trust and faith. The importance of faith should not be underestimated. George Michael sang that he gotta have it. He was right. Faith in the capabilities of ones provider is an essential part of the support value proposition. Customers must believe that their support provider is competent and committed if they are to sleep soundly at night (and take their guidance on face value without overly pushing back or demanding excessive levels of proof and/or explanation). Your customers, like Agent Mulder did before them, want to believe. Help them to suspend disbelief and provide an environment which enables them to keep the faith. There should always always be a plan (or at the very least, the appearance of one). Without one, customer trust evaporates quickly. And without trust you have nothing.
Crone: “You do know her then?”
Edmund: “No, just a wild stab in the dark which is incidentally what you’ll be getting if you don’t start being a bit more helpful…”
Blackadder II, Bells
As the period docu-drama Blackadder II shows us, wild guesses pulled from the air are rarely helpful and often annoying. You need to be perceived to be doing more than mere guess work. Even if (and some would argue, especially if) that is really where you’re at. Customers rarely find provider hunches to be reassuring. You need to bring some structure to the chaos and establish a framework that leads to the inevitable conclusion that the customer’s issue is resolved successfully. Everyone who has watched a TV medical drama (which is probably 100% of your customers) is aware of the vast array of standard tests that patients are subjected to when the heroic (yet tragically flawed) doctor is attempting to diagnose what ails them. Unless of course they’re Gregory House…
Cameron: “You can’t diagnose that without a biopsy.”
House: “Yes, we can, we treat it. If she gets better we know that we’re right.”
Cameron: “And if we’re wrong?”
House: “We learn something else.”
Putting Dr House to one side, situational analysis best practice and market leading problem solving techniques suggest that some degree of diagnostic process is necessary and beneficial. Formal incident response plans with triage triggers, ad-hoc teaming roster definitions, predefined diagnostic pathways and escalation checkpoints are essential tools to establish credibility and instil calm within the customer’s mind when all about them are losing their heads. Crass confusion creates concern. Calm confidence comforts and convinces customers.
Algernon: [Airily.] Oh! I killed Bunbury this afternoon. I mean poor Bunbury died this afternoon.
Lady Bracknell: What did he die of?
Algernon: Bunbury? Oh, he was quite exploded.
Lady Bracknell: Exploded! Was he the victim of a revolutionary outrage? I was not aware that Mr. Bunbury was interested in social legislation. If so, he is well punished for his morbidity.
Algernon: My dear Aunt Augusta, I mean he was found out! The doctors found out that Bunbury could not live, that is what I mean—so Bunbury died.
Lady Bracknell. He seems to have had great confidence in the opinion of his physicians. I am glad, however, that he made up his mind at the last to some definite course of action, and acted under proper medical advice.
The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
But what about the all important bedside manner I hear you cry!
Customer support representatives will need to develop additional skills to meet the future needs of their customers. Technical competence will no longer be sufficient on its own. Support agents must be able to empathize with their customers. Looking at their issues (and the ever changing circumstances) from their point of view in order to ensure that they truly understand what is being asked of them. Only then will they understand all that affects the customer experience and be able to play their part in shaping it for the better. The transition from customer support representative to customer experience manager is not one that will happen over night. Nor is it a transition that every member of the support fraternity will be willing or able to make.
A little empathy can go a very long way…
A 2006 study of medical malpractice attorneys in the US found that the single most important factor when patients were deciding whether or not to sue their doctor was the way in which they were treated. It had little to do with the physician being competent or never making a mistake, it was in fact much simpler. Patients who genuinely liked their doctors rarely felt inclined to sue them. In fact, US attorneys often shake their heads in disbelief after they point out that it was actually their client’s doctor who made the mistake only to hear, “I don’t care. I’ll sue the hospital but I like him and I’m not going to sue him.”
What can we, as support professionals, learn from this? Simply that as we dispense our own brand of advice and assistance, that our customers will subconsciously notice our ability to show that we believe in them and our empathy and concern for their situation. Treating a customer as a peer, worthy of our respect, has just as much of an impact on the perceived quality of our service delivery as all of the knowledge, workarounds, solutions and fixes that we impart. In fact, when a support agent is committed completely to their customer’s success, their customer’s become their biggest evangelists. It is imperative therefore to never forget to invest time and emotional capital in your customers. If their behaviour needs correcting, it is more helpful in the long run to point out an area of their skill set which needs enhancing or refreshing than simply to ignore it and label them an ‘idiot’. No one likes to be told that they are in the wrong, but the skilful communicator can introduce such concepts subtly without having force a confrontation.
Support agents should be prepared to open, honest and frank with customers because they can tell if your heart isn’t in it. The hearts and minds of your customers need to be won on a one to one basis and support is ideally placed to take the fight to them and smother them with kindness.
Anyhow that’s enough of this particular medical analogy for now. Take care and please remember to try to always exude professional kindness and confidence. I’m off to pay my respects to Bunbury.
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