One of the best practices to maintain high levels of Customer Satisfaction is to prevent known problems. This post is the sequel to a prior post called Customer Satisfaction Tip: Notification of Known Problems. The earlier post dealt with why alerting customers to known problems was important and what some key elements of a notification system might be.
How to set up a Notification System
1. Get customer permission to alert them to known problems. Offer it to them at every opportunity, on warranty cards, in marketing materials, when they call in to customer support, etc.. Allow them to sign up for only the product or service areas that interest them. Do not use this valuable permission from customers to ‘sell to them’. If this is a ‘prevent known problem’ communication channel, customers will be very unhappy if it is used to marketing messages unless you told them in advance.
2. Choose the technique to inform customers that makes sense for your organization. Some industries capture the names, addresses, and possibly emails of their customers. Some do not (eg consumer packaged goods) or have limited returns from their attempts to gather customer information. Here are some examples:
- Car Manufacturers when faced with a recall will write customers a letter and notify the press (and in many countries the government as well).
- Some industries such as airplane manufacturers may have government legislated rules on communication to affected customers if a defect is uncovered with one of their products or services.
- Food and drug recalls are often publicized in the press using press releases. Company websites, blogs, twitter feeds, facebook fan pages, email (if available), letters, are all vehicles to get the word out. There are on line Press Release sites as well.
- Microsoft and other Software vendors push out their software updates based on severity, sometimes forcing you to update your software to prevent some severe problem they are trying to mitigate.
- At IBM, we set up several systems to warn customers of issues. We offered customers an email option they could opt into, at the product level (not all computer staff are experts in all topics). The email option would send email warnings of known issues, how to know if the issue applies to the product, actions to take and how to stay informed on updates.
- Another technique used at IBM was ‘labels’ given to issues. Some products had software fixes that were not critical and could be installed at the convenience of the user. Others, however, could have impacted stability of the computer system and possibly shut it down or could affect data integrity (that is accurate data could be accidentally destroyed). We called those fixes by a different names and customers knew to apply a ‘Hyper fix’ right away. Microsoft does the same thing with some of its security patches.
- Include the press to get your message out, especially when you don’t have customer information available (eg consumer packaged goods).
- Use Social Media as part of your communication plan.
- Use Mobile messaging (if appropriate to your business) as part of your communication to customers.
3. Communicate promptly after an issue becomes known, using all the vehicles of communication available to you and communicate often, if the problem is serious. Err on the side of over communicating rather than having a customer experience a failure. Y2K planning is an example of this kind of thinking.
4. Don’t forget your business partners, dealers, distributors, affiliates, etc. They can help get the word out and maybe part of the ‘action plan to fix’. For example, Toyota Dealers were involved in fixing the sticky pedals but only when they had parts to do so. So every plan of action that is dependent on business partners needs to include them in the communication. They need to see the customer communication AND they need communication of their own to understand what their role in the resolution or action plan might be.
If an organization uses multiple channels to reach customers, each channel may need its own set of messages on their roles and responsibilities but they will all need to see what you are telling the customers.
5. Ensure your message gets to its target. In the recent BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, BP invested time and energy to create a website with videos explaining what it was doing to cap the oil leak, and to clean up the mess. BP showed these videos on their web site as covered by my blog post BP Oil Spill – Do these videos improve its reputation but failed to use the proper search engine optimization techniques so the videos were not being found by search engines and being offered for view to those searching for information on BP’s actions.
What to do first.
1. Evaluate the value of a notification system for your organization
2. Research what programs are currently in place.
3. Determine if customers affected like the program or design a new one.
4. Include any Business Partners in the planning and roll out. Business Partners might include Dealers, Distributors, Wholesalers, Franchisees, retail stores, agents, affiliates, etc.
5. Announce new (or improved) notification process and encourage customers / prospects and business partners to sign up.
6. As problems arise, checkpoint periodically to ensure the process is working and make improvements if necessary.