How standardizing responses can boost your business success

These days, there are inadvertent cringes to words such as “standardization”. Generally, this could be due to the push for cultivation of individuals in companies, and encouraging open-ended and creative thinking among employees. While this approach has been proven to be successful in improving innovation and free-form solutions, it may not be as effective in roles which requires more repetitive responses such as support and operations.

The ambiguity surrounding non-standardized responses could actually hurt a company in various ways.

1. Role confusion

When employees are unsure of their tasks, find out that they did duplicate work, are embarrassed by not knowing the previous context while talking to a client, or realize that they have given wrong instructions - they have been victims of role confusion or ambiguity. Role confusion happens when staff didn’t have (or know about) access to the right knowledgebase, set of protocols, or understanding of their responsibilities.

Role confusion has been linked to decreased productivity and employee satisfaction over the long term. For reps whose main work involves replying to stakeholders, it becomes extremely important to provide clarity in their responses to internal and external stakeholders.

What to do about it: Clarify the objectives and responsibilities for reps in their role. To ensure that there are no overlaps, consider setting up a repository where everyone can contribute newly written responses to share their experience and handling methods with the rest of the team. Not only will this lead to a more open culture, it can save the next person time when they need to find the right way to deal with a situation.

Naming and cataloguing the responses hence becomes crucial as well; it’s important to put in place policies that can be easily recognized and used. Can you remember a time when you needed to find something in a shared work folder and couldn’t find -anything- because everything seemed out of place?

Onboarding new reps well will also increase role clarity and ensure that there is a sustainable and complete understanding in place for the future. Having this clear repository will also help new reps find and use resources that will help them to ramp up faster.

2. Response ambiguity

Almost every day, there are new questions which may be posed to reps. Sometimes, only the very experienced reps may know what exactly needs to be asked and said in response. However, it could be extremely challenging for most reps to have a good idea of what exactly to ask for in order for them to start resolving issues.

On the other side of the table, customers may want to report accurately, but have no framework as to what exactly they need to provide to recreate or explain a problem. In effect, if reps do not ask diagnostic questions in a structured and easily manageable manner, customers may not know how exactly to report their issues.

Response ambiguity can be a stumbling block for both parties, as the lack of clarity leads to later ambiguity in solution-seeking as well.

What to do about it: Categorize the types of common questions and responses needed to deal with 70-90% of all issues related to the product or its auxiliary services. By having categories of repeated and important issues, it’s easier for reps to define the right information that they need to capture in order to get started.

Putting questions in formats also helps the customers in reducing their anxiety, as they feel that they are attentively being served and are asked relevant and concise questions about their issues. Moreover, having a standard response (like a “form” to fill) also helps to keep the anxiety from lack of expectations down - as long as they’re not too long!

3. Inconsistent customer experience

It’s sometimes easy for us to assume that when employees come on board, they have already some level of prerequisite understanding of what they are expected to do. But this, and some elements of miscommunications, often occur day to day, and that makes it difficult for reps to really respond to customers consistently amongst themselves.

As customers ourselves, we’ve probably experienced situations when we were given conflicting instructions by service reps. Not only do they not necessarily solve issues, they may even make it extremely frustrating for customers.

Sometimes, the level of service also varies by the environment around the person responding. For example, with the rise of distributed teams, many reps work away from their desk or on their mobiles or tablets. This means that sometimes it’s hard for them to access any saved folders without jumping through hoops to get to a hidden folder somewhere - and when they do get there, they have to copy and paste on a small screen before sending it off.

As a high-interactivity touchpoint, customer service can make or break a customer relationship, and hence companies need to pay close attention to improving it as much as possible. Frustration can often drive dissatisfaction in the workforce too.

What to do about it: Consider having an easily accessible knowledgebase of responses, where employees can quickly refer to and take with them on the go whenever they need. Have someone constantly check in and curate the responses that reps use, and ensure that resources are easily accessible by everyone who needs them, across platforms and devices. If your team is distributed or mobile, it’s even more important to have a simple and mobile-centric solution where reps can quickly pick and send responses.

Instil best practices among the service organization - Understand the service chain through analysis, then do your best to identify bottlenecks and difficulties. Draw use scenarios with your reps in the middle of it, and decide how you can improve the internal tools or capabilities to help them do their jobs better.

4. Non-contextual understanding

Context is defined as the physical, emotional and environmental factors around a situation. For example, when someone complains about something, you need to go beyond what they say to:

  • What they were seeing and touching at the point in time
  • How they were feeling about it and what they were experiencing
  • What kind of environment were they in: somewhere crowded and distracting or their quiet office space? Contextual understanding can help to triage issues much more effectively and lead to better solutions. For example, knowing that your customer is waiting by a crowded sidewalk in the sweltering sun for your product or service to work is a nuanced understanding that you need to take into account when handling the situation like a pro.

Often, these contexts are not considered when dealing with customers. If words are taken at face value, it makes it extremely difficult to really understand what the problem is - and how you can use the data that you have from customer feedback into improving the next version of the product or service. That’s just giving up important sources of product direction and improvements.

Language barriers can also prove to be challenging for empathizing with customers. Many times, whether collaborating with partners or helping customers, we realize that not having a handle on the cultural or language aspects can derail the conversation and expectations.

What to do about it: Identify the important contextual factors that occur during, and affect, the use of your product. What is a typical situation that your product will be used? Write a story around it, and draw out a story map that details this process. Next, consider edge cases where other small segments of customers could be alternatively using the product, and write their stories too.

Share these insights with your reps. Take feedback from them and refine the story, and help them to further understand the importance of addressing these in their responses and tone.

You can also create templates of responses that reps can use to easily diagnose these factors quickly, without too much effort on their end to memorize at the start - though it may become clearer and intuitive later on. This will also help in the onboarding of new reps and fresh grads into the company.

If you have in-house language counsel, let them vet through some of these response templates, and translate them/add cultural nuances to them. Otherwise, some outside help on optimizing the language and approach could prove to be beneficial in your dealings with customers too.

5. Increased back and forth

One of the most insidious disadvantages of not having standardized responses is lost time. When reps previously respond in a certain way or a certain sequence, there usually is a logic in doing in those ways for improved efficiency.

Sometimes, reps aren’t sure about what to ask (see #2) and hence end up spending a much longer time resolving an issue than would be necessary. Leaving out detailed questions or descriptions almost always leads to needing more time to go back and forth with the correspondent to understand what they’re facing or what they need.

Having more instances of back and forth frustrates both the stakeholder and the rep, and wastes a lot more time that could have been used on other productive activities.

What to do about it: Collect and save responses proposed and used by reps previously. By having this proven logic or method embedded in responses, you can more quickly get to the root cause of the problem and offer better solutions.

Towards better customer experiences

Standardizing responses requires a systemic understanding of customer needs, products, reps’ experiences, and responses necessary to ease the whole process. While this can take some time at the start, to analyze and put in place measures and templates, this can reap significant benefits in the long run when reps feel more empowered and efficient, and customers feel happier.

Overall, by improving the environment in which reps can respond faster and better to customers will boost the bottomline of the company, by metrics such as lower turnover, increased productivity per employee, and customer satisfaction (CSAT) measures.

As always, drop us a message anytime if you feel you’d like some help from us to discuss how to put these to work at your team!


Written on August 12, 2015