Just like all the other areas of a company—the warehouse, the accounting department, shipping—customer care is a process. In fact, it typically involves a number of processes, such as incoming order processing, returns and re-stocking, setting up new accounts and solving customer problems. If a customer-care candidate does not already have a process orientation, it will be an uphill battle to instill one. Consider the following true story.
John had been the supervisor of customer care for over ten years, but he had never had an employee make as many mistakes as Brian. While Brian was a wonderful person, a bright light in the company and well-liked by his customers, keeping him on track with company processes was a constant challenge and was sometimes disruptive to other employees. Worse yet, customers were experiencing delays in getting their orders because Brian didn’t seem capable of following the bouncing ball. To John it seemed so simple, but Brian was constantly trying to reinvent an existing process that, if followed, already worked quite well. He would often ignore the new accounts process and send out stock before an account was approved. Customers loved it, but it often backfired by causing delays.
John hated to admit it, but it looked like Brian was too scattered. He was not a good fit for the job. John couldn’t think of any other area of the company that didn’t have processes to follow, so there was no better place for Brian to go. In the end, John had to release Brian from the company and wish him the best in his future.
Process orientation can be uncovered in both assessments and interview questions. Having this orientation serves to instill much-needed confidence in the customer. It creates a comfort level for the buyer, for the employee and for others in the company, ensuring that nothing is being missed. Good processes ensure smooth dealings with no unnecessary touchpoints, resulting in the best possible outcomes for you and your customers.
Too little process orientation can be troublesome, as Brian’s story demonstrates … but too much process orientation can also be a problem.
If a customer-care employee is afraid to step off the process when a situation calls for it, he may become dogmatic and rigid. Rigidity in following processes can cause as many problems as not following processes at all. Employees need to know where the boundaries are, as well as company expectations as to when they should use their own judgment to cross those lines.
Carl had never had a shipment go so wrong, so fast. A new product had been shipped for a grand opening, and it was missing and untrackable. The customer, one of Carl’s best, was beside himself with worry. Carl’s boss was in an important client meeting, so Carl made a quick decision. He offered to leave work, pack a replacement shipment in the back of his car and drive the two hours to the customer’s workplace. It would not be there for the opening bell, but at least the customer could tell clients when it would arrive. The customer was ecstatic. Carl knew he was pushing the boundaries and completely disrupting his and his colleagues’ workday … but this customer was in a spot and he made the decision to fix it. He believed that his supervisor would have done the same. He was right.
Knowing when to subvert the process can be as important as knowing when to stick to it. Carl’s customer would not soon forget this demonstration of up-service (service so excellent that it inspires the customer to expand the relationship with the seller).
Whenever we interview customer service candidates, we need to bear in mind what I like to call the Goldilocks Principle. We want to find proof, from the applicant’s personal experience, that he or she can balance process orientation with an ability to step outside the process when that’s appropriate. Blind adherence to process is too hard. No process at all is too soft.
Look for Goldilocks! That’s the applicant who gives you the right process orientation balance … for a customer experience that’s just right.