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Frustrated Clients Want Options. Not Apologies.

Research Shows That Saying ‘Sorry’ Can Make it Worse. Spend Your Energy Finding Creative Solutions Instead

From critical HDMI failures to ISP outages or control system bugs, there is no shortage of frustrating support events for smart home end-users. And when your clients have to reach out for help, especially at a critical time like before a party or company coming to town, emotions often run high. During these support events, it can be tempting to issue apologies. Recent research out of Case Western Reserve University suggests, however, that saying “sorry” does nothing to help your client’s perception of how the support event was handled. In fact, it might make the situation worse.

Jagdip Singh, a marketing professor from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western, recently appeared on an episode of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) IdeaCast to explain their findings. Here’s how you can apply these lessons to create a better client support experience.

The Problem with ‘Relational Work’

Singh defines “relational work” as showing warmth, showing empathy, and forging a personal connection with the customer. On the surface, these sound like great ideas for anyone engaged in a support event. But, through the course of their research, Singh and his team found that relational work had little to no impact on the customer’s perception of a support interaction.

As Singh states, the words used up (and hence the valuable time spent) on relational work are “actually perceived to be not very helpful because, in [the client’s] mind, [they] distract from the solving work that is essential for [them] to have good options.”

Focus on ‘Solving Work’ Instead

Singh’s research indicates that you should instead focus on what he calls “solving work.” The research defines solving work as “creatively, competently, and energetically generating solutions to the problem customers have.” The team’s findings indicate that this sort of creative problem-solving work is the dominant factor in how customers perceived the support interaction.

During his interview on the IdeaCast, Singh states “[The] idea that just looking at the outcome can tell us how good that interaction was, was dispelled in our experiment because what we found was that the more creative and interesting options the frontline person was able to give to the customer is what determined to what extent the customer was satisfied with the exchange.”

Focus on Presenting Options

HTPs can easily leverage this powerful insight to as part of their service and support strategy. Not only are technology failures largely out of your control to prevent, but it also turns out that your clients will perceive apologies as little more than a waste of both their time and your energy.

Instead, as the research suggests, you are much better off quickly acknowledging the problem then diving in and taking control of the situation. This can take many different forms depending on the specifics of the situation. The availability of remote support technologies like re-bootable outlets or remote systems management (RSM) platforms can also have a direct bearing on how many options you have at your disposal.

However, even in the absence of such tools, it is important to train your service team creatively identify and present solutions. A great example we like to use at OneVision is a client who calls for support because an Apple TV issue is ruining their plans for family movie night. If remote troubleshooting fails to resolve the issue, a support specialist may present creative workarounds. For example, can the movie be streamed to an iOS device and then displayed on the TV using AirPlay? Or, perhaps the same movie is available on their cable/satellite on-demand system?

The More the Merrier

Cited above is, of course, only one example. Presenting options to a client could include anything from discussing scheduling options for an on-site visit to escalating the event to a programmer who may be able to remotely perform more advanced support.

What matters most is that you focus your energy on presenting options. Indeed, the research suggests that the outcome of the support event (i.e. which option the client chooses) has less of a bearing than how many options the client is presented with. Singh states, “…what we found was that in the case of solving work, what is important is not the ultimate decision, [or] the choice the customer made or was given in that situation, but…how many good options the customer had.”

Providing a great service and service and support experience for your clients is more important than ever, given today’s hyper-competitive smart home landscape. Singh’s research reveals a powerful and simple lesson you can apply to give you an edge. To provide your clients with a better support experience, focus your energy on presenting options, not apologies.