4 Steps to Effective Customer Service Problem Solving

By in LiveChat Blog > Customer service,
problem solving in customer service

Recently, I’ve read an interesting customer service story.

An American Express customer has made a decimal mistake while making a payment and paid thousands of dollar instead of hundreds (ouch!).

He called AmEx to inform them about the mistake and ask for advice. He was assured by a representative that the problem won’t affect his account and all charges will be refunded. But it turned out to be just the beginning of his problems.

A few days later customer has noticed that all his debit cards are suspended. But when he checked his account, he didn’t find anything suspicious, not even a note that the account is blocked, so he called AmEx once again for clarification.

To his surprise, the representative he reached, asked why he didn’t stop the payment and accused him of a fraud attempt. When customer responded that a previous rep didn’t advise him to do so and assured that there will be no negative effects of his mistake.

Do you know what was the rep’s response?

That’s what customer service does. They tell you what you want to hear.

This quite nasty customer service story inspired me to write about the real purpose of customer service. Which is not “telling customers what they want to hear”, but helping customers and resolving their problems. You’ll also learn a couple of troubleshooting techniques that should make your job easier.

One representative can save the day

You might wonder how the story of the AmEx customer ended.

Well, the customer gave the company a last chance. He canceled the payment and got back to the customer service asking if there is anything else he’d have to do. But this time, he reached a different representative.

However this time… she is willing to listen. It was like night and day. I explain the situation to her. She is immediately understanding. She looks at my account, puts me on hold, then comes back on and says that her supervisor has authorized my card to be reactivated. I’m shocked… and happy.

Two reps working in the same customer service team for the same company and two entirely different customer experiences, a great one and a terrible one.

It’s hard to tell what led to the bad experience: maybe the rep was not the right person to work in customer service, perhaps management failed to train and motivate them properly. The bottom line was that customer called for help and did not get it.

In many cases, problem-solving is so difficult because you need to maneuver between company policies and the interest of a customer. That’s what happened here. But it turned out that while the first rep was not able to deal with such a situation, the second had the right problem-solving skills to address the problem.

Four troubleshooting steps

Here’s something that should be helpful for any customer service representative: a path that you should follow to provide satisfying solutions to customers.

1. Understanding the customer’s point of view

So, here’s the customer.

They contact you and ask for something impossible to do. Let’s say that they were informed that your company will be cutting their phone line for non-payment. Now this customer is asking you to credit the last couple of invoices because they don’t have money (this is a real request I’ve got when I was working in call center).

A regular person’s first thought would be: “are they nuts?” But you are not a regular person. You’re a Support Hero and it’s your job to save the customer’s day. Negative thinking won’t get you any closer to the solution.

Maybe a customer is a fraud, but maybe they are in a very bad situation and desperately need help. You can’t tell what’s right and what’s wrong at this stage, so you should assume that the customer is not a fraud and you should assist them.

It’s not your job to judge their motives.

You need to listen actively to understand the problem and find a way you can help.

2. Identifying a problem

Sometimes customers are not able to clearly explain what is wrong and it’s completely normal. They don’t know your processes or your jargon; they just know that they’ve had expectations towards your product or services and are disappointed now.

It’s your job to restore their faith in your company, but first, you need to find out where the problem is.

Here are few questions that can help you troubleshoot. Sometimes thanks to these simple questions you’re able to see that there is an outage or that a faulty batch of products was sent out by a manufacturer!

  • Can you describe exactly the problem you’re having?
  • When did the problem begin?
  • Has the problem occurred before?

And now ask yourself:

  • Are all users affected or only one?
  • Has anyone had this problem before?

Once a customer replies to all your questions, summarize answers back to them. It will let them know that you understand them and will help you to verify the facts.

If you haven’t heard about such a problem, or you’re not sure what to do, apologize briefly and inform that you need to discuss this case with your colleague or supervisor. Try to sound self-confident and don’t be afraid to ask a customer to hold on a minute.

Customers appreciate getting the correct answer, even if it will take a bit longer.

But instead of saying an awful “sorry but I’ll have to transfer you to the other department”, try to say:

We’re going to resolve this case for you. I will transfer you to a specialist who’s the best person to answer your question.

3. Find a solution

Make a good use of your analytical thinking and try to find out a solution that will suit your customer the best.

Here are a few questions that should help you to plan a solution:

  • is there an adequate staff to carry it out,
  • who will be involved in solution,
  • how much time will a solution take (time frame),
  • what is needed to make it happen,
  • who should be informed about the planned solution,
  • how will a customer be notified about the solution.

Even if you’re dealing with a case that’s not going along with your company’s policy, there is always something you can suggest.

Let’s take the example with a customer asking for a refund.

Even if your company’s policy won’t let you credit these charges, there is still something you can do.

  • you can inform the customer that you cannot credit the bill, but you can split the payment into a couple of smaller payments so that the customer could afford it,
  • you can postpone the suspension of the account so the client can use the phone,
  • you can check the customer’s account and suggest changing price plan to a cheaper one.

One unreasonable request and three possible solutions that depend on your creativity!

But what will happen if you are not the one who can solve the problem?

First of all, you might need to open a ticket.

You need to make sure that this ticket doesn’t get lost in your CRM’s oblivion, so you need to assign it to yourself and monitor if it’s resolved in time. If the problem is not solved in 24 hours, you might want to contact the customer and inform them that you’re still working on a problem.

Sometimes the problem cannot be solved at all. Your company stopped selling the particular product, you don’t have a gluten-free option in your restaurant’s menu, a customer wants to use a feature that doesn’t exist…

It doesn’t mean that you can’t still find a possible solution!

If you’re not selling these gear bags, let the customer know who does it. If you don’t have anything gluten-free in your menu, ask the customer if they want something from the nearest shop.

Making an extra mile can translate into customer happiness even if you don’t solve the problem the way customer expected you to do.

Here’s an example from our experience. My colleague, Justyna, has received a chat from a customer upset with the fact that our application doesn’t have an in-built screen-sharing and screenshot-making tool.

After taking a few deep breaths, I told Aline that even though the tools that she needed doesn’t come with LiveChat itself, she can set up an integration allowing her to have screen-sharing sessions with her clients, and use a free screenshot tool like Jing. That did the trick! She was very happy with the solution, so my mission was accomplished.

4. Fix the problem and follow up on the solution

At last! The customer has agreed on a solution. You’ve briefly apologized for the problem and now you can fix it and close the case, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Sometimes your solution will not resolve the cause of the problem. Let’s say that customer had an issue with the application and you’ve suggested restarting the device. It is possible that it will resolve the problem, but it’s more likely that this customer will come back to you. And it’s more probable that they’ll be upset that the solution you gave them did not work.

I know, when working in customer service, you hardly have time to go for a break and I’m asking you to follow up your customer’s problems, right?

But here are positives of spending a bit of your time on contacting these customers back.

  • you show that you really care about them and create an awesome experience,
  • you make sure you won’t get a call or chat from a furious customer,
  • you check if your solution worked and will be sure of it next time.

And if you don’t have time to make any calls or send any emails, your team can make use of an automatic survey that will tell you how happy the customer was and if you’ve helped to solve his problem.

You can use SurveyMonkey, MailChimp or you can simply send a template of a message asking two questions:

  • did we help you to solve your problem?
  • can you rate your overall experience (1-10)?

Customers will appreciate it!

Problem solving is a mindset, not an ability

If you’ve read my post about problem solving skills, you remember the golden rule of customer service. Even when the problem does not concern your product, you can still create an amazing customer experience by suggesting a possible solution.

Because this is what is customer service for. For solving problems, not for telling what customers want to hear.

So as long as you don’t give up, use the advice I’ve shared with you and think positive – there will be no problem you can’t solve.


You might want to check “5 Common Customer Service Problems and How to Resolve Them.”

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