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The Critical Mistake to Avoid When Solving Customer Problems

Jeff Toister | Dec 14, 2016 58 views No Comments

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The man’s steak was hopelessly overcooked. 

The server noticed almost immediately. He checked on the couple right after they each took a bite of their filet mignon. The woman was quite happy with her steak, but the man’s was well-done when he had ordered medium-rare.

The server quickly apologized and promised to fix it immediately. He scooped the overdone beef onto a side plate to take back to the kitchen, leaving the potatoes and vegetables on the man’s dinner plate so he could enjoy his sides until the server returned with a new steak.

The manager was alerted.

He stopped by the guests’ table to apologize for the steak being overcooked and offered the guests a free dessert. The guests declined, so the manager left the table thinking the guests were happy with the resolution.

He was wrong.

The Problem With Fixing Issues

There’s a difference between fixing an issue and solving a problem.

Training programs, procedures, and even our instinctive orientation often focus on fixing the issue. In the restaurant, the issue the server and manager tried to fix was an overdone steak.

The fix was to replace it with another that was perfectly prepared and offer a free dessert. This failed to make the guests happy because it caused two problems that weren’t addressed. 



The first was they wanted to enjoy a nice meal together. The was proving to be difficult. The woman could eat her steak immediately while it was the perfect temperature, but her husband would have to wait until his arrived. She could wait for her husband to get his steak, but then her steak would be cold. 

The second problem was the couple had theatre tickets for a performance later that evening. They planned for a leisurely dinner, but the restaurant sat them 30 minutes later than their reservation. The overcooked steak delayed their meal even longer. Staying for dessert was already out of the question by the time the manager offered it as they were now worried about getting to the theatre on time.

The focus on fixing often causes us to miss our customer’s real needs. 

I recently wrote about having to contact Spectrum 23 times to set up phone, internet, and cable for my new vacation rental cabin. My issue is fixed in the sense that everything is now working and my bill is finally correct, but my problem hasn’t been solved.

I’m frustrated that I had to spend so much time on the issue and disappointed to never receive a response from Kathleen Mayo, the Executive Vice President of Customer Operations I emailed to share my frustrations. 

Why Solving Problems is Better Than Fixing Issues

The best customer service professionals focus on helping customers achieve their goals.

This starts with listening carefully to understand customers’ rational and emotional needs. Emotional needs are often overlooked in the rush to fix issues, but they’re the most important

The goal is to help the customer feel better about the situation, and hopefully earn the customer’s trust and repeat business.

Here’s a good example of problem solving from Martha Sanchez, the owner of Idyllwild Vacation Cabins and our property manager for The Overlook cabin. 

My wife and I arrived at our mountain cabin this past weekend for a short stay. The water wasn’t running when we arrived, so I checked the water shut-off valve for the house to make sure it was on and it was. Fearing a frozen pipe, we immediately called Martha for help.

Martha told us the water had been turned off at the street level, which shuts off the water to the entire property. She could have fixed the issue by sharing this information and telling us where the shut-off valve was located, but she solved the problem instead.

Martha drove out to The Overlook and gave us a hands-on winter safety tutorial. She explained that its necessary to shut-off the water when the cabin is unoccupied during winter months to prevent pipes from freezing. She told us it was better to shut off the water at street level to help prevent pipes from freezing between the street and the house. 

Martha took the time to show us some additional precautions to take during the winter. She even pointed out where the cabin once had a pipe burst due to careless maintenance and showed us what had been done to prevent it. 

She understood our real need wasn’t just turning our water back on. We’re new to owning a home in the mountains and needed to be educated on these winter precautions so we could be confident and capable owners. It was also an opportunity for Martha to demonstrate that our house would be well-cared for while it was being rented to guests.

We had running water and felt a whole lot better by the time Martha left.

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