The Problem is not the Problem

Retail service problems
Retail Service. Getty images

Customers today no longer want their expectations met, they want them exceeded. One of the ways we fail to exceed is when we handle service issues. When a problem arises for a customer how we handle it can make all the difference between meeting expectations (which are usually very low of you) and exceeding them. And when customers expectations are exceeded, they tell others. 

The principle is this - The problem is not the problem. 

You see, as service reps, we get a call from a customer about a broken television. Now, we may think the best thing to do is solve the problem quickly and efficiently. And that would be a good thing. But have you ever solved it quickly and still not seen the customer get happy? I have many times. What is going on in this situation? Why are they not thrilled with the way I got their TV fixed? True, the repair might take a couple of days then we have to order parts and they are without their TV a few more days. But we responded as fast as possible and got it working as quick as we could. 

But, the problem is not the problem. You see, the real problem here is the customer's broken trust in your store and your merchandise. Consider this, your customer buys a $3,000 LED TV from your retail store. When they bought it, they got a 24 month no interest deal. Now, six months into ownership, it's broken.

The customer is left thinking "man I've got this TV and it's broken and I have not even finished paying for it yet!" Do you see the problem?

Most times, the problem you are presented with (a broken product) is not the problem, The real problem for the customer is their frustration and broken trust. Did they buy from the right retailer?

Will the TV ever work again? Did they get a lemon? Can they trust you, after all you sold them a lemon?

It's this realization that guides your path with the customer. It requires that you fix BOTH problems and not just the one. By this I mean, start with solving the trust problem first. Then solve the broken TV problem.

WhenLexus first came out, I wanted to see what all the hype was about. I went to test drive this new luxury defining vehicle. The commercials made it sound like a perfect car that would run forever. When I arrived at the dealership, the salesman (before I was allowed to test drive) took me into the back to show me the service area. He bragged about their 21-bay service center and how clean the floors were. He told me about a free loaner car whenever mine was in for service. I remembered thinking, "if I am paying this much for a car it's because I do not need a 21-bay service center where I can eat off the floors."

Driving home from that experience it hit me. They were not telling me the cars are going to have service problems, they were saying that nobody is perfect and as close to the "pursuit of perfection" that Lexus is, the cars still sometimes break. But when they do, there is a 21-bay service center with the highest trained techs in the industry just waiting to make it right.

He was solving the problem before the problem.

When you have a return or a service issue, ALWAYS start with empathy. Not the fake "Im so sorry this happened to you" but true empathy. Remember the "problem" and deal with it. Then, and only then, should you move on to deal with the other problem.