Customer Relations

by Roisin Murray & Wallace Murray

Cure the real problem


A customer’s tale

I needed to get my favourite suit cleaned the other week, so I took it to an expensive dry-cleaner in town. What I really loved about that suit was the unusual buttons. Imagine how upset I was when I got the suit back only to find that the buttons had been ruined. When I complained, the manager of the shop said ‘but it is standard practice for people to remove any buttons that might be damaged by our processes.’ Well it wasn’t standard practice for me! A woman standing behind me backed me up, saying that she wouldn’t have known to take the buttons off either. The manager said ‘I don’t understand why people don’t know. We gave out a lot of leaflets about it when we first opened, and now we often get people who just don’t bother to take the buttons off – then, like you, they get upset when their clothes get ruined. We try to check but you cannot expect my staff to double check every garment.’

It sounds as if the manager of that shop has had his fair share of complaints – mainly because he just wasn’t spotting the patterns.

First, he had stopped communicating with his customers – new customers need the same message as previous ones.

Second, why didn’t he get the staff to make a simple check on each garment? It would have taken time, but surely less than it took to deal with the unhappy customers?

What do you think was the effect on the reputation of this shop of this little incident (you can bet the customer let off steam about it to quite a few friends).

Problems are usually more subtle than the one in the story of the dry cleaners. People often use the sticking plaster approach, in effect papering over the cracks. They seek to minimise or hide the symptoms without tackling the underlying cause. Sometimes it can be helpful to take time out to diagnose the underlying cause after you have dealt with a symptom.

The five whys

One approach to establishing the real cause of a problem is sometimes called ‘the five whys’. All you do is to repeatedly ask the question ‘Why did that happen?’ and ‘What else caused that?’ or ‘And what caused that?’ until you get to a ‘light bulb’ moment. The ‘Aha!’ tells you you’re near the crux of the matter. You can then start thinking about longer-term solutions that will stop it happening again.

You might want to review each event or just a sample. You might want to follow up with customers to take their view with the benefit of hindsight. They’ll certainly feel they are valued and that a special effort had been made for them. That can only enhance customer relations. The most suitable approach will depend on how often there are problems, how important customer relations are to you and the costs of different solutions.

Do your systems enhance customer relations?

Frequently, the root cause is found within the organisation’s systems themselves, and not in the product or service.

If your team members show signs of frustration with any aspect of the procedures, listen to them. See for yourself whether the systems genuinely support staff in meeting the customers’ needs and offering them a positive experience. Encourage and coach them to propose viable modifications. Make sure the proposals reach the responsible person, with an appropriate supportive comment from you.

Maybe you are yourself responsible for the design of a system or procedures. In that case, talk to the users. Ask how the procedure can help them meet the needs of the eventual customer. Check out if anything in the procedure hinders them. If necessary, change the system to support better customer relations.

This may sound simple, and it is. Maybe you can’t find the time? Think about the frustration and bad feelings that may be caused by an obstructive system. Think what effect that has on the organisation’s results. Think what effect that has on your reputation in the organisation.