One-On-One CX: 5 Tips to Ensure First Responders are Great with Customers


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I’ve talked with many CX practitioners who agree that we sometimes flip the age-old saying: We don’t see the trees for the forest.

By that I mean how easy it is to become so focused on the big-picture organizational aspects of CX work—changing processes, building new programs, studying company metrics on customer satisfaction—that we overlook or take for granted the one-on-one aspects of CX. The challenge increases the more a CX program grows and the more we involve the entire organization in our work.

Are our employees communicating appropriately with customers? Do they have skills for turning around an unhappy customer? Do they listen—really listen—to what our customers have to say?

First Responders Take Direct Action to Solve a Problem

Teaching these skills is an ongoing priority at the B2B technology company for which I work. We have a wide-reaching CX program that spans every department in our global organization. In each department, a CX Catalyst is appointed to act as a “first responder” to handle customer issues that fall within their bailiwick. In this way, the customer is speaking directly with someone who understands the issue and can take direct action to solve it, rather than speaking first with an intermediary CX team member who then must relay the issue to the appropriate department for resolution.

Some departments, such as legal and financial, traditionally don’t have frequent contact with customers, so it is critical that their first responders have the customer communication skills they need. Here are five techniques we use in our CX program to ensure customer-facing employees across the organization convey our brand the way we want it conveyed.

1. Support first responders with good technology.

Our company uses an Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM) solution that automatically reviews online customer surveys, creates a case file and immediately sends an email alert to the appropriate first responder. Within 24-48 hours, the first responder contacts the customer or decides who is the best person in the organization to respond. After the customer is engaged, the first responder can easily keep the case updated until it is closed successfully. 

Because we also use speech and text analytics tools to record and analyze all communications we have with our customers, the system rolls up data concerning how quickly the cases are resolved, what issues predominated, how each responder is performing and more. The system can also anticipate “best next actions” to be taken, provide information the responder needs to handle the customer request and guide the responder through the process. It is a tremendous resource in helping us see how well our first responder program is working. It also gives us visibility into where our weaknesses are and how we can improve customer communication training across each department.

2. Appreciate customer complaints.

A Complaint Is a Gift, a 2008 book by Janelle Barlow and Claus Møller, introduced the notion that customer complaints are not annoyances to be dodged or denied, but valuable pieces of feedback that can keep any company on course. I use the philosophy in our training program for first responders and can’t preach the message enough.

Complaints usually deliver more positive benefits than negative vibes, once we get over the initial discomfort of hearing from a dissatisfied customer. Complaints drive us to do our best and give us insight into how we can improve. In addition, resolving complaints satisfactorily is an opportunity to strengthen the bond with customers and increase their loyalty. Most important, viewing customer complaints as a gift puts you in the right mindset to receive them patiently and deal with them appropriately.

3. Don’t react to complaints. Respond.

At our company, we make a distinction between a reaction to a customer complaint and an appropriate response. Being in “response mode” means you set aside your feelings and focus on the client. It means you don’t get defensive. It means you give your customer time to be heard and to air his or her grievances.

Instead of trying to counter the client’s claim or provide a quick solution, our first responders repeat the concerns they have heard to be sure they have identified the problem correctly. A few questions not only can ensure you have all the necessary details but also can convey that you are truly concerned about fixing the customer’s problem. If first responders feel they know what will make the customer happy, they should explain how to proceed to correct the situation. If they feel resistance to the proposed solution or option, they should give the customer the power to suggest a solution. We tell our first responders, “It’s OK to admit you don’t know everything.&rdquo

4. Show empathy.

Using calm, objective wording can help lower customer anger and stress. So can conveying that you understand and identify with the customer’s concern. For example, you could say, “As I understand it, you are, quite rightly, upset because we didn’t get back with you as quickly as we said we would last week.” It’s also important to show appreciation for the customer’s feedback. And make sure your tone of voice communicates this understanding and empathy. And remember one important fact: Research has shown that empathy is not simply inborn but can be taught.

I am fortunate that Kevin Strange, our VP of sales and channel enablement, is in sync with our CX team on this topic. In fact, Kevin recently did an insightful video interview in which he explains his belief that a good salesperson is a product of both “nature and nurture.” In the interview, he discusses the steps he takes to ensure internal and channel sales teams not only have a gift for selling but also learn how to relate to customers in the empathetic, CX way.

5. Encourage first responders to take action.

Listening is an important skill for any first responder, but we also empower our CX Catalysts to take action, to work across departmental lines when necessary to solve a customer’s problem, and—within reason—to put the needs of the customer ahead of standard internal protocol.

When we launched our CX Catalyst Network in 2017, we were going to call our new program leaders “CX Advocates,” but you can be an advocate without doing anything. Catalysts get things started, inspire change and influence others. We want to make it very clear that this is an action-oriented and empowered position in which merely talking about good customer experience isn’t good enough. Launching the action is expected and required.

And action is what our CX Catalysts take in their role as first responders to customer complaints. Success stories abound about how our first responders not only solved customer issues but laid the groundwork for new revenue opportunities. For example, when one customer was becoming increasingly frustrated with a series of technical issues, our first responder Caroline recommended a services engagement. The customer took her up on the offer and has since become one of our most loyal fans. In a company where most new business comes from existing customers, Caroline said exactly the right thing. 


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