Avoid Playing the Blame Game

Here's how to train inside sales reps and field service technicians on properly responding to customers' problems and frustrations

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Recently one of our clients installed a new phone system. This was a significant investment designed to create a better customer experience and provide more meaningful data and metrics in measure call times and flow. The new system could also record real calls.

One of the key components of the new system was that when it detected the phone was busy or not available at one branch, the call was automatically transferred to another location so the caller could be serviced immediately. This was part of the client's objective in improving the customer experience and it makes sense.

As with many technical installations, there were several bumps along the way. Calls were being dropped and other glitches were appearing. Simple things like transferring calls and accessing voice mail were no longer simple. There was a lot of frustration from management and staff.

Employees were also taking calls from other locations and speaking with customers to which they had no relationship. Customers, of course, were confused as they thought they were calling one location, but actually speaking with another. Customers became upset because they wanted to speak with their 'regular' inside sales rep.

Since the system can record calls, the client started listening to some of them. They were amazed how their employees were responding to customers when the customer started questioning as to why they were not speaking with their local branch and regular rep.

Rather than explaining to the customer how the new phone system was designed to service them more quickly, they echoed the customer's frustration. Some questioned why the company would invest all this money in a new system when the old one was fine. The employees displayed a negative tone and were quick to blame management for a bad decision.

Employees played the blame game. They did not realize that by blaming management, they were speaking negatively of the entire organization. Every employee is a representative of the company. I understand why the employees do this – they feel blaming others will deflect any hostility or negativity the customer might have. This situation is someone else's fault.

In this case, however, blaming others resulted in making the customer more frustrated with the company. None of this blaming others is productive.

We often see this blame game in other areas of the company, most commonly in field service. Some technicians might blame others for the situation in which the equipment is not working. Some of my favorites are:

"We always see this problem with that particular piece of equipment." That makes the customer feel good!

"They never should have let this equipment out for rental." Who are "they"?

"Whoever serviced this the last time did not do it correctly." This doesn't do much for the customer's confidence.

None of these excuses will make the customer feel good about doing business with your company or enhance your reputation. The field technician needs to empathize, apologize and focus on fixing the equipment.

So how do you eliminate the blame game? It is a bad game that usually results in a bad ending.

Here are some tips for beating this game:

  • During the planning and installation of the new system, anticipate that there will be problems. Changes in a phone system or any technical upgrades often results in a change in procedures or a disruption in service. Regardless of experience or planning, problems will occur. Plan for them.
  • This also applies to field service staff, especially when you roll out a new piece of equipment. Know there will be problems.
  • Make certain all employees are properly trained on the new systems. The training needs to be relevant and timely. I have seen too many instances where people were trained weeks ahead of the change and retained very little when the new system was finally installed. This is not only technical training, but training in how to respond to customers.
  • Role-play customer situations. Companies often miss this critical step. Employees need to know what to say and how to say it. They need to understand why the changes were made and how they, as key employees, are an important part of the solution.
  • Empathize and apologize to the customer. Whether it's a customer whose equipment is down or a call that landed in a different location, the customer is in a situation they have not expected. Empathize with them and apologize for any inconvenience. This will help repair the relationship and focus on helping them.
  • Remain positive. Lead by example that problems will be addressed and the end result will lead to more satisfied and loyal customers and a better process for serving your customers.

Blaming others is never part of the solution. It simply masks the situation and brings down the value of the entire organization. Management is responsible for making certain there is not a culture of blame, but one of constant improvement. Transitions are hard, but with the right planning and training, they can be manageable and ultimately successful.

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