Join Jeff Toister for an in-depth discussion in this video Expanding your circle of influence, part of Customer Service Foundations.
In customer service we're often expected to solve problems that are beyond our control. For example, a storm might cancel a flight. Now customer service agents must find a way to re-route stranded travelers who are angry about the delay. A manufacturing problem might cause a popular product to be backordered, making customers frustrated that they can't get what they wanted right away. A new law might require a company to change a policy that annoys customers who like the old way of doing things. I'd like to share with you a technique you can use to overcome these types of obstacles.
It's called the circle of influence. Let's use an example from a software company to explain how it works. The software company had just released an update to its most popular program. Unfortunately, the update caused two problems. First, it had several bugs that caused the software to stop working. Second, the new version of the software was much different than the old version, so customers didn't know how to use it. This caused an unexpected avalanche of customer service phone calls. At one point, the average wait times stretched to an hour.
The technical support reps who answered these calls didn't cause this problem, but they were still able to use the circle of influence exercise to find a way to provide their customers with better service. Here's what they did. The exercise starts by drawing a circle on a piece of paper. Outside the circle, make a list of factors that you can't control. The technical support reps listed a few things. Can't control. The new update has bugs. The update is hard to use. We don't have enough staff to handle our call volume.
Now, make a list inside the circle of things you can control. Here's what the technical support reps listed. Can control. We can empathize with customers to try to make them feel better. We can help fix their problem. We can show them how to use the new software. We can share some cool new features that they might not be aware of. We can take the time to fix all of the customer's problems so they don't have to call back. One thing that technical support reps realized is that they were worried about getting through the calls quickly when customers were waiting up to an hour to speak to them.
This often caused them to rush through the call, which sometimes meant a customer's problem didn't get fully solved, and that meant the customer had to call back again and wait another hour to speak to someone. The technical support reps couldn't control the reason for the first call. But, they could focus on making customers feel better by the end of the call than they did at the beginning. And, they could try really hard to ensure that customers didn't have to call back a second time. When they started doing this, the technical support team noticed that call volume started steadily declining. They were fixing problems.
And more important, they were preventing new ones from occurring. You can try the circle of influence exercise any time you face a challenging problem that seems like it's outside of your control. It may even help to get a coworker to help you brainstorm some new strategies to try. The problems we face are sometimes out of our control, but we can still provide outstanding customer service if we can just find a way to leave each customer better off at the end of our interaction than they were at the beginning.
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- What is outstanding customer service?
- Identifying your customer
- Creating a customer service vision
- Enhancing likability in person, over the phone, and via email
- Actively listening to customers
- Going the extra mile
- Taking ownership of problems
- Diffusing angry customers
- Using data to evaluate and improve your customer service<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.