There isn’t a utility in existence that doesn’t make a mistake from time to time that impacts customers. The question is, are they properly reactive in solving the problem and are they proactive in their service so that customers always feel they are treated well?
Here are some tips on reactive and proactive customer service.
Reactive customer service comes after the fact. Reactive service comes after a customer has a problem or complaint or is generally dissatisfied. This type of service is in reaction to your customer and, therefore, is likely to be affected by both parties’ emotional states.
Actively listen and don’t interrupt the customer. Set your emotions aside and pay attention to your customer. Interruptions will fuel an agitated customer. If your customer has been inconvenienced, listen and then extend a sincere apology – the operative word being sincere.
Make an action-based gesture. Even the smallest gesture of this type can diffuse an upset customer. It’s critical that you take responsibility and demonstrate that you own the problem. Depending upon the situation, the gesture can be something as simple as making an adjustment to the customer’s account or sending a small token of apology, such as movie tickets.
Speed is critical. Your resolution must be presented immediately, if possible, and without layers of management approval. This is how you turn a disgruntled customer into a happy one. This also turns second chances into a loyalty-building activity.
Customer service is often viewed as a complaint-handling system. Customer service is a marketing technique. If you develop customer service and customer retention programs, you will reap benefits in many ways – increased sales and profits, happier employees and customers, less stressful work environments and more time to think creatively and proactively.
Only 4 percent of customers complain. Your utility may never hear from 96 percent of its customers and, of those who are unhappy, 92 percent may just quietly go away because they feel complaining will not do them any good. Complainers are more likely to continue doing business with your utility than non-complainers.
Most complainers end up staying with your company. Fifty-four to 70 percent of complainers will do business with you again if you resolve their complaint. Up to 95 percent of these customers will refer new customers.
Customers always have a choice: they can call or not call. If they don’t call, their frustration doesn’t go away. They may just put it “on hold” until something else happens and then they are even more upset. Or they can share their frustration and opinion of your utility with others and in those conversations, you are certain to be the bad guy.
Proactive customer service may come before or after the fact. But proactive service is always about taking action to improve the customer’s experience and outcome. Proactive customer service anticipates the customer’s current and future needs.
Proactive service begins before the customer walks in the door. Proactive service means your utility is already prepared to do everything to satisfy and keep the customer. Review all the activities at your utility and examine how well your employees perform to satisfy customers. Go well beyond just handling complaints, providing refunds and smiling at customers.
Proactive service means going out of your way for the customer. Do everything possible to meet your customers’ needs. Sometimes that means making decisions that benefit customers even at the expense of the company.
Measure the process. Take a close look at all your processes and procedures, as well as interactions your staff has with your customers both over the phone and in person. Identify the most common situations that cause customers to get upset or frustrated. Review the process with all departments involved, brainstorm ways to improve it and test the new process to confirm it will create the desired result. A new solution will reduce calls to your customer service staff. Overall, the number of unhappy customers your utility has to work with should decline.
David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skill training for utilities.