On separate occasions this week, four clients have asked me how to help their people be better problem-solvers with customers. Respectful problem-solving is at the core of customer service and our approach to training service providers. Here are some basics.

  1. Listen by asking open-ended questions to identify the customer’s perception of the problem.
    • Ask questions to identify both the facts of the situation and the feelings of the customer about it.
    • Ask clarifying follow-up questions when uncertain about what the customer is saying.
    • Take notes.
  2. State the problem in one sentence.
    • Be specific—it’s the only way to end up with valid solutions.
    • Use the customer’s language as much as possible.
    • You may need to help the customer see the big picture—not just their perception of the problem.
    • Then ask: “Is this how you see the problem?” or “Does that capture the situation?”
    • If necessary, adjust the problem statement until the customer confirms that it is accurate.
  3. Explore possible root causes with the customer.
    • Look for the root cause(s), not just symptoms.
    • Ask probing questions.
    • NOTE: Don’t skip this step. Many do and, therefore, find they have not addressed the real issue.
  4. Redefine the problem, if necessary.
    • It is not uncommon, upon exploring possible root causes, to discover that the presenting “problem” was a symptom, not the real root issue.
    • So, restate the problem in one sentence, if necessary.
    • Then ask the customer whether this is how they see the problem now.
  5. Briefly brainstorm possible solutions.
    • Explore options to solve the problem.
    • Respect their feelings as well as the facts.
    • Identify constraints where necessary (in a “can do” positive way)—legal, ethical, technical, cost, etc.
  6. Decide on action(s) to take that will resolve the problem.
    • Determine the best solution(s)—considering outcome, time, cost, etc.
    • Agree upon next steps to resolution.
    • Ask the customer if they feel good about this solution.
  7. Follow-up, if at all possible.
    • Check the results to see if the problem was resolved and how the customer feels about it.

You can download this from our Customer Service Resources page.