Fix it the First Time

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To keep customers happy, equip your employees to take care of shoppers’ problems themselves

The venerable food writer and editor Helen Rosner recently took to Twitter to praise the customer service she received from a company. Why is this notable? Well, if you’re on Twitter, you know it’s a place where people go to rant rather than rave.

And they find plenty to complain about when it comes to customer service or, more accurately, the lack thereof.

A new survey offers retailers a relatively simple way to avoid the wrath of frustrated customers: solve their problems at their first interaction. Customers don’t want to be transferred to a different customer service representative. They don’t want to wait to talk with a supervisor or manager.

“More than half (54%) of consumers want a company to solve their issues at first interaction,” according to survey results released in October 2021 by Genesys, a provider of cloud-based customer experience services headquartered in San Francisco. “Yet only one-third of businesses prioritize first-contact resolution. Businesses instead prioritize focusing on professionalism and friendliness (48%) in customer service interactions and being quick to respond to requests (38%).” It’s not wrong, of course, to focus on being friendly and responding quickly — you should do that, too.

The most obvious way to resolve customer complaints at first contact is to empower your in-store retail sales associates and online/over-the-phone customer service representatives to make decisions — and amends. By providing them the ability to address a wide variety of issues, including offering refunds or replacement products, you can resolve problems faster and make customers feel valued. You aren’t wasting their time or giving them the runaround. 

Other tips:

O Empower your delivery teams to solve problems brought to their attention without having to check with a manager back at the store or distribution center. Other than an RSA, delivery folks often are the only direct contact your customers have with your retail operation, and you should treat them as a vital part of your customer service team.

O Create a bonus structure that rewards customer service reps and other employees for resolving issues at first contact.

O Expand the ways that customers can reach you. Customers still interact with companies most often via the phone (68%), but the number using messaging, mobile apps, chatbots, social media and video calls more than doubled from 2017 to 2021, according to the survey. One in 10 customers has reached customer service through home assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home. Younger consumers, in particular, are more inclined to reach out via messaging apps, chatbots and social media.

“We’re in a reality where consumers expect a company to know who they are and engage with the best agent that’s equipped to meet their needs,” says Ginger Conlon, a customer experience advocate at Genesys. “Moving beyond efficiency and focusing on delivering the right data and orchestrating the next-best action in the ideal moment and channel are paths to success.” O

Julie A. Palm is chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC and is a past editor in chief of BedTimes and Sleep Savvy magazines.