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Dec 11, 2006

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Customer service – accept blame, own the problem

The Rivers and the Sea, Aesop's fables

When things go wrong, as they often do, what is your first
reaction? Blame it on others. This blaming game is played even
at the highest levels in the corporate offices and in our
government. When complaints arise and it is obvious that the
fault lies in a certain person, he gets the whole troop of officers
in the department to share the blame. It sounds unfair, but it is
a useful strategy. Here, the blame is not pushed away. If it had
been that, it will leave a terribly bad impression and will not go
well with the voting public. Instead, the perpetrator accepts
the blame and in the process alludes to the fact that the blame
ought to be shared among all the people involved. The outcome
is that the impact of the error is diffused since everybody has
a fraction of that responsibility, however remote. While this
approach seems to have its merits, we should be cautious when
using it on our customers and clients.

Story:

The Rivers and the Sea

The Rivers and the Sea

The Rivers joined together to complain to the Sea, saying, "Why
is it that when we flow into your tides so potable and sweet, you
work in us such a change, and make us salty and unfit to drink?"
The Sea, perceiving that they intended to throw the blame on
him, said, "Pray cease to flow into me, and then you will not be
made briny."

Moral:

Don't blame others for a situation caused by you.

Kidding me:

Customer Service with a Smile

Quotable Quotes:

“Positive feedback makes the strong grow stronger
and the weak grow weaker.” ... Carl Shapiro

“When things go wrong you have to pass the blame
along the line, like pass-the-parcel, till the music stops.”
... Tom Stoppard

“Cheers hearten a man. But jeers are just as essential.
They help maintain his sense of balance and proportion.”
... Jay E. House

“Some of us aren't paying enough attention to our
customers.” ... Thomas J. Watson, Sr.

“Profits in business comes from repeat customers.”
... W. Edwards Deming

“Things that are done, it is needless to speak about ...
things that are past, it is needless to blame.” ... Confucius

[browse collection of quotes and quotations]

Lessons in life:

This brings to mind a very important lesson in the area of
customer relationship – Never avoid blame. Recently I
brought my notebook to Hewlett Packard (HP) service centre
for servicing. I highlighted 3 problems. When it was
supposedly serviced and ready for collection, I chose to collect
it personally, instead of waiting an extra day for the set to be
delivered to me. The moment I saw the notebook, I knew 1 of
the problems was obviously not rectified. Instead of
acknowledging that they had omitted it, the service staff went
on to explain how there could be a miscommunication. At a
certain point, he seemed to suggest that I had something to do
with it by referring to a teleconversation their staff had with me.
I was obviously furious, and I could swear that at no time was that
matter raised in the teleconversation. Neither had I given any
instruction not to have the problem rectified. They were not
apologetic about my time spent on the wasted trip to their centre.
Also, they did not attempt to minimize further inconvenience
by arranging for the set to delivered to me immediately after
the servicing. I wrote a lengthy email to their Managing Director
sharing with her views on how they could have improved their
customer service.

Essentially, the golden rule of good customer service is to accept
blame and own the problem. When a customer complains, your
first response is usually a defensive stance, explaining why it
happened. Never do that. Customers are not at all bothered why
it happened. They are only interested that you own the problem
and rectify it. Explaining, or blaming other people or processes,
will only disclose the weaknesses in your system and undermine
your integrity. Besides, explanations without actions will not
solve the problem at hand. What you should do is to own the
problem and not pass the buck to someone else (whether or not
it is really a fault of yours). Start with a simple apology on behalf
of the company. Next, convince the customer that you will do
everything you can to correct the situation. You can either
suggest the remedial steps you will take, or have the customer
propose a solution. A reasonable customer will understand that
mistakes are part and parcel of life, and should be pleased in the
way you have handled them. Well, if it is of any interest to you,
HP, as a true professional, subsequently did a good service
recovery job in rechecking my notebook for the alleged problems.

A final point to note from this fable is the fact that the rivers and
the sea are mutually dependent on each other. Without the rivers,
there is no sea, and vice versa. Businesses and customers bear the
same relationship. In my email to HP, I told them how a customer
would benefit if their company thrives, and continues to deliver
good products and services. A customer can play his part by
giving constructive feedback. The company in turn should
welcome feedback, and strive to change and improve. The ideal
business relationship is forged when customers care for the
company as much as the company cares for the customers.

Related Articles:

Communicate truthfully and effectively
Conflict Resolution at Work

Books worth reading:

If you have not read this book by Spencer Johnson, Who
Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change
in Your Work and in Your Life, grab one and read it. In the
parable, two mice and two humans live in a maze and were
suddenly faced with a change, i.e., someone has moved their
cheese. Using their reactions ranging from quick adjustment
to waiting for something to happen, the author expounded
on the need for change, and the attitudes toward any change,
be it at home or at work. We learn the lessons of having to
anticipate change, let go of the old, and not fear change.

This book, Managing Customer Relationships: A Strategic
Framework, by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers is a great
guide on the steps taken to building long-term relationships
with customers, increasing customer loyalty, and ultimately
leading to more profits. It details how everyone, from
managers to IT professionals to sales executives can develop
a customer relationship management model that is
customer centric, and maintains customer loyalty.

© Business Fables and Management Lessons

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