Thursday, April 05, 2007

When things go bad: Making it right

Has it really been almost an entire week since my last post?! Yikes! Time is really flying and there's so much interesting marketing news to discuss. First, I wanted to conclude my series on the bad/ugly of customer service by outlining the steps in the service recovery process. These steps come from this book, and I think we can agree that these are sound strategies.

According to authors Clow & Kurtz, there are 4 steps on the road to recovery.

1. Firms need a recovery plan. Within our department, we certainly have procedures for handling complaints, but nothing in the way of a formal plan. A plan, in my mind, would anticipate problems and also include a means of following up. If a patron calls to complain that she is having problems logging in to our databases remotely, for example, we could correct the error, obtain her contact information, and follow-up with her within 24 hours to ensure that the problem has been resolved to her satisfaction. In fact, a key to successful service recovery is a quick response, ideally during the service transaction itself. Referring to my travel drama, Delta should have known that it was going to have a plane full of unhappy customers and sent someone to our gate to immediately put out any fires. Planning like this requires commitment from managers as well as employee training. Importantly, customers should not be shuffled to numerous departments and staff members, but one staff person should see the situation through to the end.

2. Encourage complaints. One of the worst things that can happen in a service transaction is that a patron walks away dissatisfied but never tells us about his grievances. As painful as complaints are to hear, they're the only way we can identify and remedy a problem, and so we need to make patrons feel at ease in turning to us when they're upset. It's far better that they talk to us instead of their friends and colleagues!

3. (This one is key.) Identify the problem and fix it! I'm sure all of us hear similar complaints over and over again, but what are we doing to make the source of the problem go away? By collecting data about service failures and analyzing the root causes, we can prevent problems in the first place, which should be a top priority. If the problem truly can't be fixed (for the record, I think this accounts for only a very small number of problems), then consider changing your communications to explain to patrons why the situation exists so as to adjust their expectations accordingly.

4. Finally, allocate the resources to do service recovery right. Service recovery can require a great deal of time and effort, so staff should be provided all the means necessary to carry it out. Interestingly, the authors point out the service recovery can actually become a firm's strength, which I read as "competitive advantage." Certainly, service recovery is an opportunity to showcase our commitment to and concern for our patrons, so let's highlight our responses to patrons' problems by making them our own and seeing them through with all the means at our disposal. [Update: What I mean here is let's highlight our recovery efforts in publications and other library communications and demonstrate how we take on patrons' problems as our own.]

Coming up: A description of one of my best service experiences from a customer point-of-view, what made it so great, and what we can learn from it.

Update: Brian of the UL and I must have been reading each other's minds. He blogged yesterday about being proactive in assessing how satisfied our patrons are in a post, Librarian as Quality Assurance Agent. One point I neglected to mention is that it's great to respond quickly to complaints, but it's even better to be proactive and seek out problems and suggestions. Some companies have dedicated people, like the Quality Assurance Agent model Brian talks about. Should every library have one person devoted entirely to service recovery?


brian said...

Come on, libraries don't believe in advertising or quality agents, that's just blog-talk!!!

Jill said...