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The Power of Prevention In Customer Service

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Rather than dealing with the same problems over and over, prevent them from ever happening again.

Most of any customer service team’s day is spent solving problems for its customers.

A problem comes in, and you solve it.

And then you do it again.

And again.

And again.

But what if there were something critical that you were missing from your workflow that could save you thousands of hours?

The truth is, there’s something that most companies are skipping that could bring such benefits.

That something is quite simple, but incredibly powerful: prevention.

Almost every tech support problem has two solutions. The superficial and immediate solution is just to solve the customer’s problem. But when you think a little harder you can usually find a deeper solution: a way to prevent this particular problem from ever happening again.
Joel Spolsky

The Power of Prevention In Customer Support

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Benjamin Franklin

Most companies see many of the same issues over and over again.

And yet most do little to prevent those issues in the future, instead playing a never-ending game of whack-a-mole with their support tickets.

But what if you solved just one of those repetitive problems forever?

To understand how powerful prevention is, let’s see how it applies to even the smallest of issues.

Let’s say a particular issue occurs, on average, five times a week. It’s minor and easily fixed, so between reading the email, applying the fix and responding to the customer, your team spends three minutes on the issue each time.

Now let’s imagine that you spent an hour to solve this problem forever, whether it’s by building a system or process to prevent it, or making an actual change to your product.

In only four weeks, your efforts will pay for themselves.

And a year later, your team will have saved 11 hours on that issue alone.

And that’s just one small repetitive issue. Apply the same concept across dozens of small issues – and larger ones – and you’re looking at thousands of hours of savings every single year.

Now, prevention isn’t the same as automation. When automating, you automate tasks that make solving repetitive problems easier. For example, you could create a Knowledge Base article or canned reply to address common issues, or a filtering rule to change how incoming tickets are routed.

Automation makes solving the problem easier. Prevention ensures that the problem never happens to begin with.

How to Approach Customer Service Prevention

The key to preventing issues from recurring is understanding why they happened. If you understand it happened, eliminating the cause because straightforward.

It sounds simple, but it’s important to think about this, because it’s easy to forget it in the whirlwind of responding to support ticket all day.

There are two areas of support where prevention is useful: recurring issues, and big screwups.

Recurring issues are fairly straightforward to deal with:

1) Have a process for recognizing when an issue is “recurring.”

At Groove, we use labels in our help desk to track bugs and other smaller issues. When a label gets applied more than three times, we consider it a recurring issue.

Once an issue is recurring, it gets moved to Pivotal Tracker for whatever dev is working on bugs that day.

2) Dedicate technical staff time to fixing recurring issues.

For this to work, it’s important that your team values prevention enough to dedicate developer time – even if it’s just once per week – to eliminating these recurring issues.

If you’re struggling to get buy-in from your team on this, check out our guides to why all-hands support is a great investment, and on changing your company culture.

Preventing Big Screwups: The Art of the Blameless Review

Screwups happen.

It sucks when they do, but no business is immune.

Outages, fulfillment fails, customer service screwups: all of these leave a bad taste in your customers’ mouths, and they need to be prevented from happening ever again.

How do you do that?

With blameless reviews.

Blameless reviews are exactly what they sound like: a deep exploration of what happened, why and how it can be prevented moving forward, without assigning any guilt.

John Allspaw of Etsy explains, a blameless review means that everyone whose actions have contributed to an accident can give a detailed account of:

  • “what actions they took at what time,
  • what effects they observed,
  • expectations they had,
  • assumptions they had made,
  • and their understanding of timeline of events as they occurred.

…and that they can give this detailed account without fear of punishment or retribution.”

The reason for a blameless review is that when an employee knows that they’re not going to be punished for whatever happened, the incentive shifts from “cover your own butt” to “let’s get to the bottom of this and make sure it never happens again.”

It puts the focus on the process rather than the people. Changing your processes is better than changing your people. And while strong people will leave, strong processes will work for you always.

Seek perfection, settle for excellence. Remove any personal guilt and examine the processes related to the service failure. Returning customers will appreciate your efforts to improve the experience.
The Disney Institute

The blameless review is a practice that every company should add to their repertoire, and will give you all of the insight you need to put serious screwups to bed forever.

Using Prevention In Your Customer Support

Whether you’re dealing with small issues or big crises, putting prevention processes into action will save you time and money, and help you build better relationships with your customers.

Now tell me: have you ever opted to prevent a problem from ever happening again, rather than simply choosing to keep dealing with it? What did you learn?

Let me know in the comments below.

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About the Author

Len Markidan heads up marketing at Groove. He’s focused on helping startups and small businesses build better relationships with their customers.

Read his latest posts or follow him on Twitter

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