Do You Really Know Your Customer?

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I’m disappointed with myself. Yesterday I broke one of the most fundamental rules of product management: know your customer.

Any reputable organisation will have processes in place to handle queries and complaints via front line resources like a call centre. Most of the time things can be resolved at this stage but every now and then a case will find it’s way to the Product Manager’s desk. This is for good reason. If the process has failed a customer there could be an issue with the product or marketing and it needs to be investigated, reported (if it’s a regulated environment) and promptly resolved.

I was assigned one such case for a customer care representative who had made the effort to provide all of the necessary details. Unfortunately, the way it was filtered through to didn’t give me complete visibility over the information and so I did something really annoying. I sent an email with an overwhelming number of questions, some of which had already been answered and I’d have known that if I’d just done a bit more digging.

At the time I’m sure my thought process went something like “I’m not a customer care rep I’m a Product Manager they can give me the information from the account file.”

That attitude right there is the mistake I made. Yes, my ultimate customer is external to the bank but my real customer in that moment was the customer care rep. These people are taking hundreds of calls a day and doing the best they can with limited resources.

Her situation, which I so easily dismissed, was something like this: she had an upset customer on the phone, she spent 30 minutes filling out a form on behalf of the customer, it finally reached the Product Manager who after all of that asks for the exact same information! And she still has the upset customer waiting for a response! I mean there’s no sugarcoating it, the pain index on this one was pretty high.

Understandably, she submitted an articulate account to her manager of the ridiculous process she’d been subjected to. Well, he did something about it. His email to our team was not happy!

This is not a situation where you can muck around or play the blame game. You should:

1. Own the mistake and apologise

2. Thank them for their feedback

3. Calmly explain the breakdown in the process

  • I’d caution that you should only do this if it aids understanding and not if you are coming from a place of trying to justify a mistake.
  • This is an opportunity to listen and acknowledge, not throw the blame back on the other person.

4. Analyse the breakdown and offer an improvement that will stop the issue in future

  • You may need time to investigate and that’s ok, just let the person know the time frame in which you will come back to them and honour that commitment
  • In my situation, I highlighted two changes to our process that will ensure the requests are captured and actioned correctly

5. Ensure the issue at hand has been resolved and thank them for their patience

  • I’d suggest you give the person a quick call when you do this

I know it’s difficult when we are busy and yet another urgent request hits our plate, but it’s so important to stop and think about who we are serving in each interaction. The end user of the product was the one who needed help but I couldn’t actually help them if I didn’t support my internal customer, the care representative.

I’m pleased to report we’ve resolved the issue and left things on a positive note. You can always come back from these situations by showing you are dedicated and responsible.

I’m curious to know, how would you respond in this situation?

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