The best way to retain customer loyalty is to avoid complications in the customer experience. Here is a suggestion for a hands-on approach for troubleshooting potential issues that customers may have experienced, with examples of how this approach has been implemented.

by Jeff Toister
Date Published April 6, 2021 - Last Updated December 16, 2021

The following is an excerpt from The Guaranteed Customer Experience: How to Win Customers by Keeping Your Promises.

Customer-focused organizations create robust systems to monitor customer experience and sound alarms when promises might be broken. While many of these systems might appear insanely complicated, they're based on two simple questions:

  • What promises are we making?
  • How do we know we're keeping our promises?

Monitoring for broken promises allows you to identify problems and fix them quickly. Some problems are easy to see. For example, one client promising fast service implemented a simple visual system at their customer service desk. Employees were trained to contact a colleague or supervisor for additional help whenever they saw waiting customers standing next to a particular sign posted on the wall. To customers, the sign was an innocuous display of helpful information, but to employees it was a visual cue that the line had gotten too long and they were in danger of breaking their promise of fast service.

Other promises require data to monitor and detect problems. For example, email remains a popular channel for customers to contact companies. Research conducted by my company reveals that customers expect increasingly fast responses, and organizations should respond to customer emails within one hour. Many customer service teams track their email response time, so they know whether or not they’re meeting this standard. The manager then has the ability to detect issues with their teams' response time.

Some companies, like Amazon, use automation to search data for signs of a potential problem. When a customer places an order, the items are picked from warehouse shelves and packed into a box. The box is then routed through a special machine that weighs the package and compares the actual weight to the expected weight of the shipment. Any discrepancy is a signal that the box likely has a missing or incorrect item. If the weights don't match, the box is automatically pushed off the shipping line into a quality control station for an employee to inspect.

Companies often collect customer experience data but may not be using it proactively to identify, track, and solve broken promises. Here are just a few places where you can look to find signs of broken promises:

  • Account cancellations
  • Product return rates
  • Delivery tracking records
  • Customer service contacts
  • Social media mentions
  • Online reviews
  • Customer service surveys

One of the most overlooked opportunities to detect broken promises is to ask frontline employees for feedback. They have frequent interactions with customers and can easily describe the types of complaints they hear most often. Asking employees to share those complaints will help managers start a list of issues to investigate.

Another way to monitor for broken promises is to be your own customer. Each week, I send out an email called the “Customer Service Tip of the Week” to thousands of subscribers. There are occasionally errors in the email, such as a typo or a broken link, that slip through despite a rigorous testing process. As a final validation, I subscribe to my own email, so I can see what time it arrives in my inbox and see the email from a subscriber's perspective. When there’s an error that will impact the customer experience, such as a broken web link, I can quickly fix the problem and alert subscribers before most people ever notice there’s an issue.

Elite leaders are adept at using the tiniest of clues to spot early warning signs of a broken promise. I call this hunting icebergs. An iceberg is a problem that appears small and manageable on the surface but is actually the tip of a much larger and dangerous issue that remains unseen.

A client once discovered a $50,000 billing problem after fielding a single customer complaint. The customer had encountered a billing issue that theoretically couldn't happen in the company's billing system. Since the error did in fact occur, the manager sought out the root cause and discovered a software glitch that only affected a few customers in unusual situations. While the problem was rare, it happened often enough that it cost the company $50,000 in lost revenue per year. The software was quickly fixed with just a few lines of code.

Icebergs can usually be investigated by doing what's called a “gemba walk.” The term gemba (or genba) is a Japanese word that means "the actual place." It's a principle closely associated with lean manufacturing, but I've always found it to be a great way to diagnose service failures.

Doing a gemba walk involves going to where the work is done and observing it first-hand. It requires you to approach the situation with an open mind and ask questions to gain a better understanding of how people do the work and why they do it the way they do.

An airline customer service director noticed his contact center was fielding a lot of calls from passengers struggling to use the airline's self check-in kiosks at the airport. The questions seemed very basic, and the director wasn't sure why people struggled. He went to a nearby airport and spent time helping passengers check in at the kiosks to better understand the challenges passengers experienced.

What he observed was illuminating. The on-screen instructions were confusing, especially to someone who was an infrequent traveler. There were employees stationed nearby to help passengers, but there were too few to handle the volume of passenger questions. The customer service director also realized his contact center agents didn't have the most accurate information about how the self check-in process actually worked.

The observations from the director's gemba walk helped improve the customer experience and prevent broken promises. The self check-in process was updated to make it easier and more intuitive. Airport employees were given better training on how to assist customers quickly. And contact center agents were given more accurate information about the check-in process so they could better help customers who got stuck.

Jeff Toister is an author, consultant, and trainer who helps companies develop customer-focused cultures. He's written four books including The Guaranteed Customer Experience. Thousands of customer service professionals around the world subscribe to Jeff's Customer Service Tip of the Week email. More than 500,000 people on six continents have taken one of his video-based training courses on LinkedIn Learning.

Tag(s): supportworld, costs, ITSM, IT service management, business intelligence, business of support, cost models, customer service


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