DOs and DON’Ts of Problem Resolution

Something has gone wrong here—whether your product wasn’t right, your service wasn’t on time or the customer’s expectations were not fulfilled, you have to be ready to solve the problem for your customer. In order to win back the customer, you must have strong problem resolution skills. According to Gallup, the degree to which a guest was satisfied with the resolution of their problem was a huge factor in their overall engagement. Those who were “extremely satisfied” were twice as likely to be fully engaged with a brand as those who were anything less. Here are our DOs and DON’Ts of problem resolution to build your problem-solving toolbox.

DO be a good listener

You must give the client your undivided attention, truly understand the problem and recognize why it is upsetting. Always remember to look at the problem from your client’s perspective. Maybe it doesn’t bother you when a restaurant is out of a particular item, but it might be someone else’s hot button—but I only came here for the frozen hot chocolate, for example. If your customer is coming to you with a complaint—even if you don’t perceive anything is wrong or there’s been a misunderstanding—it’s up to you to make your customer happy and regain your customer’s trust and loyalty. Learn as much as you can about the customer and the situation so that you have enough information to not only solve the problem efficiently, but also to “wow” the customer for a strong finish.

DO apologize

This sounds simple, but it can be overlooked. As you listen to your customer speak about the issue at hand, you’ll have a better understanding of the nature of the problem and know specifically what you are apologizing for. This is key because you want to show you’re paying attention and that you can empathize. “I sincerely apologize, Mr. Smith, and I understand your frustration about the delay with your car repair and for the unexpected costs. I know you’re planning to go to your daughter’s soccer game. May we offer to provide you with a loaner to get you to the game or drive you there ourselves and bring the car when it is done?”

DON’T make the customer feel like an imposition

There will be times when you will be working with particularly difficult customers. Then there will be customers, for whatever reason, who are not actively difficult but who will require a little more time and effort than a typical client. With all of that said, there is no excuse to ever make a customer feel like he or she is an imposition. For example, if a client filled out a form incorrectly or accidentally selected the wrong option in an ordering process, reassure them that you will correct the issue and deliver the correct product and do so as quickly as possible. Of course, it can be frustrating for vendors to have to redo work that was triggered by customer error, but again, that is no reason to make customers feel badly in any way. This includes avoiding verbiage such as, “no problem.” By even using the word “problem” you suggest that the situation could be perceived as a problem, which is not the impression your client should have. “I am happy to assist you” or something along those lines is ideal as it is positive and demonstrates your ownership of the problem.

DO make every effort to give the customer a first-person problem resolution

Speaking of ownership, The Ritz-Carlton Service Values ensure that each of our employees—known as our Ladies and Gentlemen—pledges to “own and immediately resolve guest problems.” Take it on as if it were your own problem just like this Front Desk Agent at The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai, who went above and beyond to ensure a guest’s clothing was repaired in time for an important meeting. This story is exemplary not only because of the first-person problem resolution, but also because of its timeliness. More than 80% of customers cite speed of problem resolution as the most important factor in a good customer service experience (source). But what if you need help solving a problem? You may enlist the help of colleagues (especially if this means a faster resolution), but you should remain the single touch point throughout the entire problem resolution process if possible. Unfortunately, everyone can think of a time when they’ve tried to get a problem solved and have been passed from person to person. Do not make your customer feel like a “hot potato.” In the event that you absolutely must turn the problem  over to a colleague, always ensure the customer feels like you care and make the transition smooth by reassuring your customer: “I leave you in great hands with Alex,” for example.

DO keep the customer informed along the way

Thanks to your smartphone or device of choice, you have access to all sorts of detailed and up-to-date information at any time. With one touch, you can tell when your pizza is going out for delivery, the score of the game and when the rain is supposed to start. When your customers are already stressed or upset because of a time-consuming problem, it is up to you to provide updates that make them feel informed and reassured that you are working on the resolution. This is common courtesy and shows that you care. Even if things are not going well, for example the problem is worse than you initially thought, always be honest and empathetic as well as appreciative of your customer’s time. Certainly do not make promises you cannot keep as this will ultimately cause more frustration and damage to your relationship with your client.

Beyond Solving the Problem

At The Ritz-Carlton, part of our commitment to service is the “anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s needs.” Sometimes those needs appear in the form of an issue that needs to be solved. You can fix a customer’s problem by listening and apologizing, or you can take it one step further by creating a memorable resolution that will help convince your customer to continue using your brand. While experiencing severe delays on the tarmac, a pilot decided to order pizza for the entire airplane (BBC)—definitely a memorable resolution. Never underestimate the power of simple thoughtfulness to secure your customer’s loyalty and put the frosting on the cake of a well-baked solution to their problem.