I completely missed the sign on the front door as I walked into a coffee shop a couple of days ago. As the line I joined snaked forward, I read an ominous handwritten sign taped to the bakery display case: “Out of hot coffee due to a technical difficulty with our grinder. We are so sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you.” As a former barista and current advisor to many customer support teams, my gut reaction was to roll my eyes at the disservice they were doing themselves. Had the baristas been encouraged to be solution-based, they could have saved the day and delighted their customers, despite being out of their top-selling drink.
Here’s what happened:
Customers that read the sign on the front door (which was similar to the sign on the bar) never made it into the coffee shop. They believed they could not find the product they wanted, so they shopped elsewhere that morning. Those who made it past the front door sign queued in one of the slowest-moving lines as the barista at the register explained which drinks have regular ground coffee in them and which have espresso (which can be confusing, especially if you haven’t had your coffee yet!). Many patrons believed that no ground coffee meant no caffeine and no alternatives. Guests and baristas were stressed.
Here’s what could have happened, with a solution-based mindset:
Baristas could have written more informational signs with their expert recommendations for drip-brew alternatives. I would phrase it “Our coffee grinder is experiencing technical difficulties – ask your barista how to get a free upgrade to a hot Americano this morning!” (A solution-based company would empower employees to adjust how they charge during an incident like mechanical failure.) The pickiest drip-brew drinkers might turn down a chance to try espresso with hot water (an excellent, guaranteed-fresh drip-brew substitute in my opinion), but for many guests, they might have had their first Americano (a menu item traditionally priced higher than coffee). And in true “if you give a mouse a cookie” fashion, they would have stood a chance to convert some regulars from drip-brew to espresso. Even if customers had turned down the Americano, they would have felt informed and aware of their options. Guests and baristas would not have been as stressed and the grinder “incident” wouldn’t have turned into a full-blown crisis.
“Teams that are solution-based and solution-oriented are driven by the end-to-end customer experience. They know that customers and their issues don’t exist in a vacuum. It is important for these teams to be empowered and encouraged to go off-script and get creative to ensure customers get the best answers to their questions.”
– Sara Carter, Director, Customer Operations at Sparkcentral
No such thing as “not my problem”
When visiting Zappos.com‘s contact center recently, I read a note from a customer praising a representative who had assisted them with a conundrum. When the rep wasn’t able to find the item the customer wanted, she went above and beyond to connect the shopper with a tailor from her state. While Zappos did not sell anything to the letter writer in that interaction, they did make a customer for life. She ended her note exclaiming that she would be back to make purchases in the future based on the service she had received. This is a typical scenario at Zappos and they don’t shy away from “wowing” customers whenever possible.
As Zappos demonstrates, company culture and goals should encourage this exceptional level of support. Solution-based service is the backbone of a larger customer-driven initiative. It might seem counterintuitive to say this as a software provider, but it’s true: technology is part of this effort. However, it is only one factor. Being solution-based is a mindset shift that must be adopted and championed by front line employees. Likewise, it must be nurtured and encouraged by leadership.
What are the characteristics of solution-based service?
So what does a solution-based mindset look like in the contact center? Here are some traits common among customer-centric teams:
Team members proactively work toward a solution: Getting to the “solution” is key to being solution-based! The focus should remain on reaching issue resolution before moving on to selling, marketing, or informing.
Front-line employees actively anticipate customer needs: Instead of waiting to hear a customer has a problem, solution-based teams will do their best to anticipate customer needs. Check out our four steps to start anticipating needs.
Contact center teams ditch the script and focus on critical thinking: If your employees are only allowed to reply with scripted answers, you might as well employ a team of robots. Instead of assuming teams consist of mindless drones, solution-based teams foster critical thinking skills. They know that a support script can help guide an interaction, but doesn’t direct it.
Representatives answer questions as effectively as possible: Efficiency and effectiveness are important in any contact center. Teams focused on finding solutions take their service to the next level by making it effortless for customers.
Agents complete all needed tasks and follow-through on all promises to customers: If you’re going to talk the talk, you must walk the walk, as well. Once solution-driven team members are done speaking with a customer, they will complete all remaining tasks. Any promises made to the customer must be kept and handled in a timely fashion.
In the words of the wise Vanilla Ice: stop, collaborate, and listen. Keep these three little words in mind and you’ll be off to a great start!
A2: 1st. Let them know you are there to help. Then ask to go over the situation again. Ask open end questions & give feedback #custsolutions
— Shep Hyken (@Hyken) April 4, 2013
Common traits of leading solution-oriented agents
These characteristics are common among teams focused on issue resolution with the best solution. If you’d like more insights on hiring effective digital care agents, check out Sparkcentral’s official agent guide!
- They are empowered, informed, and confident
- They ask clarifying questions
- They take the time to explain
- They are empathetic and perceptive
- They pay attention to detail
- They are flexible
- They possess sharp critical thinking skills
- They have an overall positive mindset
Results and benefits of a solution-based service strategy
This isn’t just a fad, trend, or the latest contact center hype. Solution-based service has a real and immediate impact on your call center’s ROI. Here are some of the myriad benefits of solving customer issues with a solution-based approach:
- Customer loyalty increases: The Zappos.com story I shared earlier is an example of this. Across the board, brands who take a solution-based approach to service report that customers return based on the positive emotions experienced during service interactions.
- Decreased likelihood of repeat questions: If a representative does not completely answer your question or explain their answer to you, you may have to ask for help again. Keeping a focus on the “solution” drives agents to fully resolving issues before moving to the next customer.
- Positive impact on agent performance and success: 17.8% of contact center managers surveyed in the 2016 Digital Care Agent report believed that having a clear understanding of how their job contributes to business strategy has the greatest impact on boosting agent performance. A “solution” provides clear direction and has a correlated impact on understanding their value to the overall business strategy.
- Lowered customer effort: CEB reports that your customers are 4x more likely to be disloyal after a high-effort service interaction. When you make it easy for your customers to reach issue resolution, you remove barriers that increase customer effort.
- Boosted customer lifetime value (CLV): CEB data also reflects a 94% repurchase rate when customers receive effective service. Solution-oriented support is rooted in an effective service strategy. This increase to loyalty accumulates in boosted customer lifetime value.
A solution-based approached in based on the three fundamentals of customer support: people, process, and technology. With a customer-centric team, an alignment on goals and how best to achieve them, and a workflow built around reaching issue resolution, these goals are within reach of digital care organizations today. The benefits are clear, and your customers will notice a shift in this mindset.