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Qualifying the Customer

Written by John A G Smith – Fri 07 Oct 2016


There are many techniques used to provide good customer service. Our blog writer John A G Smith is a fountain of knowledge and using his experience tells us about just one of these........ if you want to learn more enquire about one of our private customer service courses.

So there I was, stark naked, (it’s too late, you’ve got that image indelibly etched into your brain now so you may as well carry on reading), water running … and it was stone cold.

Man with bed head hair and a shocked face standing in a bathroom

Image by Joshua Rothhaas

No problem.  When you stay in ‘Business Hotels’ this is a familiar scenario.  Each morning, in a very short time span, a hundred business people arise from a hundred (or maybe fewer) beds and head for the showers.  The hot-water storage tank gives up its contents in short order and those at the back of queue, or the top of the building, go cold.  But good hotels, understanding this high demand, will have boilers that can cope so within a few minutes a heater with the power of a small thermonuclear device will restore the status quo and my day’s business will be back on track.......

A good project manager should always have a fallback so I boil the kettle (where do hotels source such miniscule kettles?  I’ve never seen them anywhere else), and have a shave, hoping that, by the time I finish all will be well.  But it is not.  There is not even a hint of warmth from any of the taps.  I’m not keen on an icy shower but can’t visit a client unwashed so I call the switchboard and report the problem.

Customer expectations

Now, as the customer facing a ‘customer service’ situation, what do I expect?  Hopefully, within a few minutes – remember, ‘time is of the essence’ – a call to tell me that the issue has been resolved and my timetable will be restored.  A second, somewhat less satisfactory, option might be that they cannot resolve the incident but they can make alternative arrangements … another room, for instance.  What would be totally unacceptable – but seems, nowadays, to be almost the default position of many organisations – is

“There’s nothing we can do.”  Effectively, “You’re on your own,”

Usually followed by the most infuriating phrase in the English language,

“I can only apologise”

This always makes me want to scream,

“If your only skill is apologising then what do they pay you for?”

Customer service 

What I actually got, a few minutes later, was a knock on the door.  Still naked, what should I do?  If I were in Scandinavia I would have just answered the door but this was Britain so such behaviour was probably unacceptable.  I called through the woodwork and triggered one of those bizarre conversations we often have in customer service.

“Yes?”

“You have no hot water.”

“I know.  I was the one who reported it.”

“Can I come in?”

“Why?”

“I need to check.”

Whoa!  Why does he need to check?  What does he need to check?  Does he think I’m lying?  That my call to the switchboard was malicious … like those people who call out the fire brigade just to watch the drama?

The truth, as seen from somebody who understands customer service, is two-fold.  Firstly he wanted to demonstrate that ‘the hotel’ was actually doing something.  We all know that, often, the most frustrating thing about a failure of service is not the actual failure itself but the lack of information.  When there are no trains (buses/planes) and the display just announces ‘delayed’ vast hoards of disgruntled customers will complain to each other and to staff and then go on – being British – to write ‘a stiff letter to The Times’.  As soon as the display is changed, or an announcement is made, that the train has been delayed ‘for forty minutes’ the level of complaints actually drops.  ‘They’ are doing something and the world is all right again.  People now understand that, with forty minutes to kill, they can do something else: get a coffee, go for a walk.

But there was also a second reason why the Acting Deputy-Assistant Duty Manager came knocking on my door.  He had to be sure that I wasn’t a moron.

Qualifying the customer

Every single customer service operator will have a huge fund of stories, shared with gusto over pints in the saloon bar, along the lines of,

“I had this idiot call me up and say …” 

How could he, an Acting Deputy-Assistant Duty Manager, know that I wasn’t the sort of pillock who would turn on the cold tap and stand, like a cat at a mouse hole, waiting for the miracle of hot water? Or maybe I had turned on the shower and pushed the thermostat all the way over to ‘cold’.  And if no other rooms had reported such a problem then it was not an unreasonable suspicion.  On the other hand, how could any customer service operator actually say,

“You haven’t turned on the cold water by mistake, have you?” 

What would your reaction be to such a question?  (Even if that was exactly what you had done?)

Over many years bumping into such situations I have managed to build up a repertoire of tricks to do what is called in the industry ‘qualifying the customer’.  This involves asking questions or getting the customer to undertake tasks that demonstrate their level of understanding and competence.

It is clear that simple questions will get simple – and possibly erroneous – responses.  If the service desk operator tells the customer to, “Open your browser”, some users may do just that.  Others will not understand the instruction but, rather than admit they don’t, will try to bluff and claim to have done so.  And when found out will bluster and even become aggressive … destroying the whole customer service experience.

Yet, often, a simple strategy can resolve all doubt. 

“Tell me, which browser do you use to access the internet?”

So, rather than send Acting Deputy-Assistant Duty Manager to disturb my naked depilation activities, a few simple questions would have resolved all doubts.

“Can you help me here, please?  Turn on both taps on the wash basin and run them at full blast for a minute.  Sometimes that clears the problem.”

Or

“Push the shower control completely in the other direction for a minute.”

Now, if I had been the moron who was waiting for hot water with the thermostat set for ‘cold’ then, as soon as I obeyed the instruction, I would have been cascaded in scolding water and been able to claim – without any loss of face – that the suggestion had worked.

If they had done that I would have been spared the indignity of admitting the Acting Deputy-Assistant Duty Manager to my room while dressed in a towel.  And you would have been spared the brain damaging mental image of me in the nude.

A much better result all round!

Contact us about our Customer Experience for Managers training  to develop your customer experience strategy or our Customer Service Excellance training to learn the techniques behind offereing an outstanding customer service.

 

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