Problem Solving Skills for Effective Customer Service

“Well, if it can be thought, it can be done, a problem can be overcome” – E A Bucchianeri

Problem solving is the very premise on which customer service rests. More often than not customers approach the customer service team / desk with what they perceive as a problem. However, despite this skill being so crucial, it does not come naturally to a lot of people. There is no option for Customer service staff to develop this skill since without this aptitude, the customer service department would lead themselves and the company hurtling uncontrollably towards irrecoverable failure. Being able to solve problems and make the appropriate decision for which solution to choose are interconnected. A customer service employee well equipped with problem solving skills may not necessarily have the required speed of decision making. There is little advantage in knowing what can be done but not having the expertise in implementing a quick resolution. The process of arriving at a solution is less important than providing an effective timely solution.

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Regularly enhancing problem solving skills for customer service staff is imperative since they face the constant challenge of providing speedy decisions. A customer who calls with a problem is by no measure patient or willing to tolerate incompetence. They require an answer within a matter of a few minutes or even seconds leaving the customer service time with precious little time to consider the many possible solutions. Customers want solutions and they want them fast. They are not inclined to wait or accept reasons for why something cannot be done. Through focused and continual training in problem solving skills, customer service staff becomes increasingly proficient in listening attentively to the customer interpretation of the ‘problem’. They are able to ask the right open ended questions that would elicit an appropriate reply from the customer leading to faster resolution of the problem. This level of competence is what customers define as effective customer service and keeps them happy and loyal to a company.

Problem solving skills encompass much more than ‘problem solving’. It is a skill that requires the customer service representative to know how to deal with conflict, being able to pacify the irate customer through tone of voice and genuine empathy, listening and communication skills and a good old on problem solving strategies. A clear understanding of a quick and effective resolution with appropriate follow up is a key component of problem solving. While hiring, it is important that the person’s responsible for this activity must hire people with proven problem solving ability and who are characteristically calm and considerate. They must be able to follow standard procedures and also have the ability to think pro-actively and creatively if a situation so demands. How can someone who flays under pressure and is unable to think coherently, be able to deal with the impatient and vexed customer?

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Given that customer service representatives are constantly maneuvering through unfamiliar queries and the ire of customers for something they are not directly responsible, it would be fair to say that the most skilled representatives would be the ones who have problem solving skills. While there is a back-up and support system – supervisors and managers – it is not practical or possible to keep referring everything to them, especially mid-conversation with an irritated customer. At contact centres especially, it cannot be predicted as to the nature of a customer’s problem. One minute you could be speaking with a polite customer with a query and the next call would probably be from highly impatient and frustrated customer. Having in-depth problem solving skills will help you in ‘reaching out’ to the customer before they get to a stage where they decide to leave and want to get back at the company. Listening effectively, being able to manage stressful situations, reach a resolution and take the customer back to being satisfied and happy – are all part of successful problem solving. Problem solving skills for effective customer service must therefore be a key topic in the training module. This can be managed in-house or by eliciting the services of a professional training company to customize this training for your company. Such training would normally encompass:

– Understanding the reason the customer is making a connection which means putting together all the points made by the customer. Whether the customer is making a complaint or simply enquiring, they expect to be heard and listened to attentively. Customers must not be interrupted so as to allow a complete assessment of what the actual issue is. Effective problem solving can only happen when an accurate assessment of the issue is made. It is possible that all the customer needs to understand is how to better use the product

– Using the troubleshooting technique of asking open ended questions, leads the customer to provide answers that help in the problem solving process. It also helps the customer service representative to narrow down the possible problems and finally isolate the actual problem. This is a specialized technique which customer’s may not be aware of and so tend to miss some vital facts or points leading to a problem. A systematic, slow and patient process walk-through would help the customer to be more at ease and be prepared to answer the questions. Having been able to ascertain the problem, the representative must ask closed questions when repeating and clarifying their understanding of the problem to the customer. Fast resolution does not mean rushing through this vital stage of understanding the root cause. It avoids confusion, ambiguity and a possibility of a secondary issue happening.

– Explain patiently to the customer to ensure they remain calm and open to a discussion and or suggestions. Provide the possible solutions and recommend what you know to be the best. The customer would be able to trust you more when they see that you are well-informed and are committed to providing the best solutions. Problem solving skills equip you with the ability to present a number of suggestions based on the nature of the problem rather than agents that use the ‘umbrella’ approach to resolve every kind of query / complaint. A customer that has their problem resolved thus, is most likely to spread the word about how great your customer service is.

– Once a possible solution is identified, implement it immediately if that is possible. If not, inform your customer and provide them with a timeline by when your will revert and keep to it. Customers don’t mind waiting but move towards anger when customer service representatives fail to do what they said in the time they said. You will have for yourself a larger problem should you fail to keep commitments. All proficient customer service staff know that following up with a customer for some time after a solution has been provided, leads to customer loyalty. This action tells the customer that the company is responsible and takes onus for their actions.

Problem solving and troubleshooting skills need to be constantly upgraded as these lead to a dramatic increase in first call resolutions and a massive leap in customer satisfaction indexes. These skills increase the customer service staff efficiency and allow them to consistently resolve queries before they become full-blown complaints with possible drastic effects. Thinking clearly and communicating articulately can only happen when the customer service staff is able to decipher the problem and know what action to take in which scenario. These are direct results of inculcating problem solving skills through focused and consistent training. Understanding each customer individually, irrespective of whether the nature of the problem is same or similar to what you have dealt with, will take your company to the ultimate goal of customer loyalty and satisfaction.

“To launch a business means successfully solving problems. Solving problems means listening.”- Richard Branson

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