Continuously improving customer service seems simple in theory. All you have to do is listen to what customers complain about and then solve their problems. The really sophisticated companies employ early warning systems to spot complaints before too many customers are affected.
Unfortunately, the most critical link in this process is often its weakest: frontline employees.
Noted customer service expert John Goodman estimates that 90 percent of complaints are directed to frontline employees. That makes them a great source of information about what makes customers unhappy. The problem is that these complaints often aren’t passed along to someone who could take action.
Here’s a passage from my book, Service Failure, that addresses reasons employees might not pass along complaints:
If employees aren’t at fault, you might expect them to take action to resolve the problem or pass the complaint along to someone who can address the issue. But what if handling the complaint isn’t in an employee’s best interests?
There are several explanations for why an employee might not want to address a customer complaint or pass it along to management:
- The employee fears being reprimanded for causing the complaint.
- The employee thinks the complaint will not be properly addressed by management, so sharing the information is a waste of time.
- The employee views handling the problem as an annoyance or inconvenience.
- The employee believes he was treated poorly by the customer, so intentionally mishandling the complaint is a means to exact revenge.
If you want complaints, you’ve gotta ask
I used to think I possessed some sort of magical charm that would get employees to open up to me. Many of my consulting assignments require me to gather information through employee interviews. Time after time, my client’s executives would be surprised at what I was able to learn through my conversations with their frontline team.
The reality is I don’t have any magical powers. Employees open up to me because I do two things their managers typically don’t.
- I ask them for their input.
- I offer to work with them to make things better.
Employees, like customers, want to be heard. Most genuinely want to make things better. They just need to be given that chance.
Unfortunately, too many customer service leaders solve problems by brainstorming with each other in closed-door meetings. The unsaid message to the frontlines is “the grown-ups are talking” and the team should hold tight until the next proclamation is made.
Do you want to get your employees to pass along those complaints? Make a habit of asking them what their customers are saying. Better yet, ask them what they think we should do about it. Involve them in creating and implementing solutions.
Frontline employees are one of the best sources of voice of customer feedback. Can you afford to ignore them?