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Beyond Logging Complaints (Part II)

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 8:03am
John Ager, Consultant & Master Trainer, Kepner-Tregoe Inc.

This is part two of a two-part piece. Part one can be found here.

Issue Escalation & Prioritization

In any business, there are low-level complaints: problems for which you already know the cause; problems for which a fix has already been decided; and problems that are one-time random occurrences of little seriousness. Then there are high-level complaints, in which a key product is experiencing a damaging failure in increasing numbers.

It is crucial that the customer-service function gather relevant information and communicate it clearly, so that management can appropriately escalate the problem and identify the most qualified experts to address the issue. Perhaps just as importantly, management needs to determine who does not need to be involved, so that those people can allocate their time and effort to other important issues.

Issue Containment

Effective containment requires interim and contingent actions to limit the spread of potential problems associated with the issue. Typically, containment actions are taken before you fully understand the cause. However, it is important to have accurate documentation of the issue, so you can recognize what you don't know and consider if what you do know is enough to take action. The data gathered by the customer-service function should drive your consideration of possible containment solutions.

Also, when responding to a major customer, you are not selecting a single action, but a course of actions. Your first, second and third response should fit together into a strategy, and should be triggered by specific trends or thresholds in the data. Consider whether each containment action is reversible, whether it can be overridden and how. Do they build seamlessly, or do they make you appear as if you are thrashing around, trying random things out?

When people in your organization initially react to a customer complaint, they should consider:

  1. The timeliness of their responses.
  2. The appropriateness of their responses.
  3. How well their responses limit the spread of the non-conformance, and its effects on the organization and its customers.

Issue Investigation

Finding true cause usually consumes the time and effort of technical support engineers and other subject matter experts. Ideally, when they begin working on the issue, there is a solid baseline of data that can direct them as they switch from passive data collecting to active information seeking. This can include calling key customers, and having them test or examine products; having the factory check their production records or quality assurance logs; or having distributors dig through their records.

Make sure you have a plan for gathering missing data, and a way of keeping your data up-to-date. When people in your organization investigate issues, they should consider:

  1. Time spent reworking information the customer-support function could have provided.
  2. Time spent gathering relevant data vs. documenting speculations.
  3. How often they get to true cause.

“When the going gets tough, the tough take really good notes.” Every time customers contact you, there is an opportunity to both satisfy their needs and collect valuable information. The initial contact presents an opportunity that may not be available in subsequent communications if customers are not able to remember important details.

How well is your organization using the initial customer interaction? Are you using it to:

  1. Track and trend issues in a meaningful way?
  2. Appropriately escalate issues?
  3. Choose appropriate containment actions?
  4. Maximize the effort of specialized resources?
  5. Find true cause of escalated issues?

The Kepner-Tregoe processes provide a simple framework for integrating the efforts and information gathered by the customer-support function into operations, by making customer support compliance part of operations, the basis for continuous improvement and a catalyst for operations excellence.

To read part one of this two-part series, please click here. What’s your take? Please feel free to leave a comment and start a dialog below! For more information, please visit www.kepner-tregoe.com.

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