Thursday, February 16, 2017

Customer Service and Failure

I hate car problems.  This is a fact of my life.  My dad was a car guy.  My brother is a car guy.  But I cringe every time I have to deal with car issues.  Fortunately, we have a mechanic who we trust and have taken both of our cars to for years.  (See the parallels already with a software partner/consultant?).  So, anyway, driving home last Friday my check engine light came on.  I did my normal scary internet searching for some basic things to try, and we cycled through those over the weekend (again, anyone picking up on the parallel to working with your software solution?).

Finally, on Tuesday, we caved and took it to our mechanic.  Who we like, but always secretly cringe because we don't know enough to know how much it will cost to fix.  Our mechanic fixed the issue (for those that are wondering- engine oil pressure sensor malfunction), although naturally it was a bit more than I wanted it to be (I wanted the under $100 fix of course!).  So I am sure by now, you are wondering why (despite the clever parallels) I am blogging about car problems on a blog devoted to Dynamics GP and software implementation?  Well, it is what came next that I think is a testament to how you think about customer service and approach failures with software and with partners.

On Wednesday morning, I woke up and got myself and the kids ready for the day.  I loaded the car with 20 cases or so of girl scout cookies (our office did a cookie pool to support all of the girl scouts in the office) then we loaded up to head to drop-off and work.  As soon as I started the car, I knew I had a problem- horribly rough idle and then the warning lights started flashing and next thing I know the car won't go faster than 10 mph.  Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.  Transfer cookies and kid and laptop to our other car, and call the mechanic.  When I talked to one of his employees, I was told they would either come out and get it or have it towed.  A couple hours passed, and I had not heard from them so I texted my husband to see if he had.  His text back was a simple "Yes, they came out and its fixed and they are test driving it around the neighborhood."

So there you go.  A mechanic who came to our house (his wife watched the store while he and his employee came out) and fixed something that was not tightened enough after the original repair.  Now, I know that some of you might think "dang right he came to your house to fix his own mistake" but I actually think of it totally differently.

Mistakes are inevitable in our work. We are human.  Software (and automobiles) are complicated.  We multi-task constantly with different clients, project, and even software.  Now, do we expect failures to be common?  No (this would be the first time in many years that we have had to call our mechanic back after a repair).  But I would argue that true customer service lies in how we respond to failures, do we....
  • Take on a proactive mindset?
  • Bring "solutions" to the table?
  • Skip the defensiveness and blame game?
  • Go the extra mile to resolve the issue?
I would argue that how we respond to failure as partners builds customer loyalty because failure is unavoidable at some point in a business relationship.  We deal with imperfect people, teams/organizations (clients and partners), and software.

In talking with the project managers where I work, we often discuss that projects will have bumps.  Trying to manage to avoid any bumps at all will leave you exhausted, ineffective, and reactionary.  But by understanding that projects will have bumps (miscommunications, missed expectations, etc) you are not "lowering the bar" (we continue to strive for excellence).  But you are, by expecting the occasional issue, adopting a proactive, pragmatic, and risk-adverse mindset- looking to manage the bumps, how we respond, and how we engage with the client for ultimate project success.

Look for the customer service in the failures.  That is where you will find it.  And that is where you will build the lasting partnerships (both internal and external) that will allow you and your organization to succeed.
Christina Phillips is a Microsoft Certified Trainer and Dynamics GP Certified Professional. She is a director with BKD Technologies, providing training, support, and project management services to new and existing Microsoft Dynamics customers. This blog represents her views only, not those of her employer.

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