Fixed the Problem? Now Repair the Relationship

In a recent MSO study of repeat callers with resolved issues, almost half reported that the reason for their calls was a technical problem. Of course, we’d call many “customer education” — the customers who don’t read directions or watch On Demand tutorials or realize the modem has a reset button.

But the more interesting part of the study was the response to the question “Are you satisfied with the way your problem was handled?” Almost three-quarters of respondents said “not really.”

In the research world, we recognize this as a univariate vs. multivariate issue. In plain talk, this means that if we over-focus on one thing — repairing the broken service — that is univariate. “Can you get to the Web now? Do you have dial tone?”

If yes, well done, the customer is back online, and we can close the ticket.

There’s a hitch, of course: 75% of our closed tickets are telling us this is a multivariate issue. To the customer, it’s more than whether the service was fixed.

We’d like to suggest that the univariate approach is inadequate, although it has long been a prevalent approach in cable. But in today’s world, operators need a consistent way to also repair the relationship.

A way to frame the issue is to consider two possibilities when a customer calls with a service problem and we resolve it:

  • The relationship with the operator is diminished as a result of how the problem was solved.
  • The relationship is neutral or improved as a result of the problem resolution.

To get the second outcome requires a concerted effort on the part of the operator to take a multivariate approach at a time of failure. That is, at the time of the event the fastest possible repair of the service is top priority, but other actions must be identified and taken during and after the event — and deployed consistently — that repair or even improve the relationship. This requires research to determine, for various segments, the actions that will drive the desired relationship outcomes.

Other industries do this routinely — even several of the airlines.

Consider that after a recent flight that was delayed six hours with mechanical and weather issues, US Airways e-mailed us an explanation, apology and a $100 coupon.

The e-mail and a drink coupon might have been adequate, and with 30 years of flying behind us, we’re pretty sure US Airways can at best get us to neutral. But they did manage to avoid having us look at every other conceivable option when planning our next flight to Charlotte, although they may have overpaid.

We all know that the future will be challenging. The telcos will soon complete building in most major markets. Could there be a worse time to have three-quarters of our repeat callers dissatisfied with us even when service is restored?

Let’s get a good handle on relationship-repairing options that are most effective for our customers, deploy them effectively throughout our call centers and tech operations, and do all we can to maintain and grow our customer base moving forward. Relationships do not have to be weakened as a result of service issues.