Customer Service Problem-Solving Techniques: Critical Thinking

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customer service problem solving skills

Professional problem-solving is the beating heart of amazing customer service.

It’s because none of the customers are contacting you to have a nice chat. They are contacting you because they have a problem.

They might be disappointed with the product they have purchased. Maybe the product wasn’t delivered yet or maybe it arrived broken. Regardless of the reason why they are contacting customer support, their motivation is one: they want you to resolve their problem.

If you have read my post about customer service problem-solving, you are already familiar with the basic methods of troubleshooting.

In this post, I’d like to present one of the problem-solving techniques that can be very useful for customer service: the constructive controversy technique.

What makes proper troubleshooting impossible

Imagine such a situation: you’ve just bought a last minute ticket to Hawaii. The plane will take off the day after tomorrow, so you have only one day to prepare for your spontaneous holidays.

problem-solving techniques critical thinking

You can already see yourself with a flower garland hanging on your neck, sipping water from a coconut. You can almost feel a breath of warm wind on your skin when you suddenly realize, you did not receive your ticket via email.

You contact the airline’s customer service to ask if they can check where the problem is and to resend the email.

Unfortunately, everything seems to go wrong.

The first customer service agent informs you that everything is OK and that you should have received the email (“thanks, Sherlock,” you think) and they promise that they will resend it.

Unfortunately, your inbox is still empty, so you call them once again.

You reach another agent. This time, they claim that you didn’t receive an email because you did not make a payment. You are starting to get upset, but you calmly say that you can send a proof of payment by email. The agent asks you to do so and promises to get back to you once your email arrives in their inbox.

They never call you back.

This situation is an example of how customer problems are solved in most customer service teams.

The first and the most serious problem is that none of both agents have asked questions. None of them was interested in the cause of the problem, they both tried to finish the call as soon as possible.

All that the first agent knew was that you were supposed to get a confirmation email. You didn’t get it, so they’ve decided to send you another one. They assumed that it would solve the problem.

The second agent assumed that you did not pay for the ticket, so you didn’t get the email. They didn’t check if you’ve made the payment; they have drawn the wrong conclusion about what happened.

Both agents were not interested in solving the problem, none of them wanted to help you, and the worst part of it was that you were promised that someone will contact you and they did not keep the promise.

What is your reaction?

You’re peeved about the whole situation. You wonder how is it possible that such incompetent people work in customer care. You curse the day you decided to buy the ticket and promise to yourself never to do business with this company again.

This is what bad troubleshooting does to the good customer experience.

It ruins it.

Critical thinking in customer service

If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.
Albert Einstein

To be able to conduct effective and creative problem solving, you need to master critical thinking, one of the most important thinking skills.

Critical thinking is the ability to understand the logical connection between facts. But it’s not only the ability to think rationally. In fact, critical thinking is an ability to think independently and to question the information you are given.

The most important part of critical thinking is to never take anything for granted. If we assume that something we hear or think is true, we forget that a person has limited perspectives and we might be wrong.

Here are three rules that can help you to develop critical thinking:

1. Pay attention to the right details

Sometimes a call or a chat with a customer can take a lot of time. During that time, the customer can tell you about many things that they think are important. It’s your job to keep in mind what’s the point of the conversation and make sure that even if you step away from the topic, you’ll get back to it.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and if something is unclear for you, don’t hesitate to dispel your doubts.

2. Question the source of information

In other words: don’t take anything for granted.

I’m not saying that you should doubt in every word a customer says, but sometimes they might not remember well or simply don’t know all the facts. Always remember to verify the facts before you form an opinion about the problem.

3. Think about who benefits from the statement

It’s a great way to assess the customer’s motivation. If they are making an argument, it’s good to check if they are going to benefit for some reason. Sometimes it can make their claim more valid, sometimes not, but it can help you to decide whether it’s acceptable.

Constructive Controversy

Controversies must be defined as interesting problems to be solved rather than a win-lose situations.
David W. Johnson and Robert T. Johnson

Constructive controversy is a critical thinking technique that helps to find out if a decision we are making is the best one for the case. It’s recognized as a leading problem-solving technique helping to better understand and solve problems.

It’s based on five key assumptions:

  1. We make a decision or take the approach based on our personal experiences.
  2. When we discuss this problem and try to force others to agree with us, we strengthen our belief that we are right.
  3. When we confront this belief with others’ point of view, we begin to doubt if we’re right.
  4. Since we start to question our judgment, we seek for additional information about the topic, because we want to be confident with our choice.
  5. This search leads to better decision making.

The more times you will go through this process, the more you can be sure that you will come closer to the right solution. The good thing about it is that you don’t need to have Sherlock Holmes’ problem-solving skills but you still can develop analytical thinking.

problem-solving techniques critical thinking

Critical thinking: one of the best problem-solving techniques

Let’s get back for a moment to the airline customer service example and let’s find out how the problem could be resolved if the agents were using critical thinking.

The first agent assumed that resending the email will solve the customer’s problem. What would happen if he decided to confront this idea with his colleague?

First of all, his colleague would tell him that sending a manual email wouldn’t fix a problem. He would suggest checking if the customer made a payment.

The agent would want to verify this fact by checking the history of payments in their CRM. He would find out that customer has made the payment so he would try to figure out why the customer did not get the email. The rep would come to the conclusion that maybe the customer has made a mistake when entering their email address.

After verifying the credentials with the customer it would turn out that indeed – the client had misspelled their surname. The agent would correct it in the CRM and would resend a confirmation email, with success.

This case is a good example of how every, even the simplest case can affect customer experience and how easy it is to make several mistakes if we make wrong assumptions.

That’s why when you come to a conclusion, you should develop a habit of asking yourself: “is this the best solution?” “What are its cons?” or discussing the solution with your colleagues.

Thanks to this habit, you will be sure that your problem-solving strategy will be much better than before and that your customers will be more likely to be happy with it.

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