Back in 2009 I wrote a series of articles on the book Human Sigma after I had heard someone at a conference remark that arts administrators were often so emotionally satisfied with their work that they didn’t feel the need to keep up on current literature and attend to professional development. I had asked the person where he heard that and he directed me to Human Sigma.
Human Sigma is actually more about interactions between customer facing employees and customers than professional development so what the authors, John Fleming and Jim Asplund, have to say is pretty applicable to arts organizations.
Emotional connection and satisfaction are very important when building a relationship with customers. As I wrote about one of my biggest revelations I received from the book:
What surprised me was that those who are rationally satisfied “behave not any differently than customers who are dissatisfied.” They use the example of a credit card company. Those who were emotionally satisfied spent an average of $251/month and used the card 3.1 times a month. Those who were rationally satisfied spent an average of $136/month and used the card 2.5 times each month. Those who were dissatisfied also spent $136/month and used the card 2.2 times.
What informs people’s emotional satisfaction is often tied to a perception of fairness. While the definition of fairness can differ from person to person, one thing that is true for pretty much everyone is that anything that appears to make the interaction easier for the business than the customer is perceived as unfair.
I wrote prime example of this,
…is the phone queue with the recorded message about your call being important leaving you to reconcile how this can be if the place is so poorly staffed the average wait time is twenty minutes. What the authors say about this really struck me, (my emphasis) “From the customer’s perspective, any process or system whose primary purpose is to solve a business problem rather than a customer concern is unfair.”
They also note that treating people equally can appear unfair. If your customer service staff follows the exact same scripted process with customers not recognizing that the script can’t cover all eventualities, the result may make you look incompetent and patronizing for asking questions or suggesting solutions which obviously do not apply to the situation.
The importance of handling complaints well is extremely important. As the authors write,
“customers who encounter a problem and are extremely happy with how the company handled the problem often have levels of emotional attachment equal to—and in some cases exceeding– those who have no problem at all.”
They say that customers don’t expect a business will always resolve a problem to their liking, “but they do except the company to handle them in an exemplary way.”
They have found that people who have a high emotional investment are likely to give a company the benefit of the doubt when a problem arises viewing it as an honest mistake or even pondering how they may have contributed to the situation. Those with low engagement are more likely to place heavier blame on the company for the problem making it more difficult to please them.
Here are the six steps to addressing customer complaints they suggest as I first wrote in my post:
First is to acknowledge the problem exists. Second is to apologize. They are quick to add that apologizing is not accepting the blame.
The third step they suggest is “Take ownership of the problem and follow up, even if the problem is unresolved.” Promising to follow up by a certain time or date is better than a vague “as soon as possible” because the customer may feel they have to continue checking in on your progress.
Suggestion four is to handle problems on the spot rather than bumping it to a supervisor.
Their fifth suggestion is have a process which quickly brings the problem to the attention of a supervisor or manager.
The last suggestion is to leave people better off than they were before the problem occurred.
In the next post I wrote, I noted that Fleming and Asplund said the best way to achieve this is to empower the employees to find the best way to solve customer problems rather than create a formal process/decision tree. Essentially, tell the employees the end goal and then let them figure out how to get there. Employees are evaluated on achieving the end goals rather than how well they adhered to processes.