In our work with clients, we help them to understand the confidence that their key customers have in their current and future ability to meet their needs. Among other things, many clients are interested to know whether their responsiveness to customers is perceived as a core strength or an opportunity for greater focus and improvement. Using our Customer Review process, our clients often include responsiveness as one of the performance factors they ask their customers to evaluate. The goal is to assess customers’ perceptions of such things as accessibility (are you there when I call?), willingness to listen, desire to help, and speed of response.
But is being highly responsive enough?
After reading comments in thousands of our clients’ customer interviews over the past ten years, it has become apparent that responsiveness doesn’t quite capture what customers are looking for. Any significant customer – particularly those that are highly dependent upon their suppliers – has a minimum expectation that they’re going to be able to reach a live person who can help them when the need arises. Finding a friendly voice at the other end of the phone to help with a quality glitch or shipping delays might be enough to solve the short-term problems, but customers are looking for more from their key suppliers. Responsiveness is what customers expect, but resolution is what they really need.
When asked about the responsiveness of their suppliers, here’s a paraphrase of what many customers say:
“You do a fine job making sure I can reach someone. You are also good at acknowledging my initial request for help or for information. I truly believe that the customer service person or the technical support expert is interested in helping me solve my issue, and most of the time they do. The problem comes when the issue to be solved is beyond their level of authority or expertise – when others in your organization have to get involved. So yes, you generally meet my needs for the initial response, but getting to the point of resolution on a more complex issue – that’s another story.”
In order to go beyond that first level of responsiveness, companies need to make sure that the people on the front line have a defined process for getting the resources required to resolve a customer concern. Companies spend a great deal of time and money equipping their customer service personnel with knowledge, skills and tools to solve and track customer issues – but the job is not yet complete. Beyond that first call for help, customers want:
- A plan for resolving the issue
- A timeline for implementing the plan
- Regular status updates from a trusted contact
- Direct interaction with those actually working on the solution
- Clear and candid communication when the solution is not forthcoming
The takeaway: For business-to-business suppliers and service providers, emphasizing the responsiveness of your frontline employees isn’t sufficient. The goal must be resolution – a shared understanding with the customer on the outcome of a particular need or request.
Eric Engwall, Managing Partner