The next time you are in a team meeting where the discussion turns to customer service issues, confidently respond, "Within every problem lies opportunity."

Then take a quick look around to see how many folks are rolling their eyes. It will probably look like a group ophthalmic exam.

I admit that the line can sound like a cliche, but I would suggest that there is more truth than fiction to it.

Recently I read some intriguing survey findings about problem resolution. Customers who had experienced some sort of problem with a service provider — but were pleased with how the problem was resolved — reported slightly higher levels of satisfaction than even customers who had never experienced a problem.

At first blush, that may seem odd. Common sense would suggest that customers who have never had a problem with a company are likely to be the most satisfied, right? But that is not always the case.

As seemingly jaded as we consumers are, we still expect (OK, hope) that the companies we deal with will deliver what they promise in the manner in which it is promised. Even hard-core cynics would have to admit that, for the most part, the companies they do business with each day deliver on their promises.

The arguably "unfair" thing is that this fact often becomes taken for granted. People do not dwell on the dozens or hundreds or thousands of times a company delivers exactly as was expected. It's when a mistake or miscommunication occurs that customers focus their complete attention on the service being provided. At those times, customers form their strongest opinions about how important they seem to be to a company.

And it is at those moments when a company has some of its best opportunities to ingrain in customers that their relationships are valued.

Too many companies tend to make the situation worse before even finding out about a problem or misunderstanding. Most of us can readily remember situations in which trying to report a problem or resolve a misunderstanding caused more frustration and ill will than the initial problem itself.

The subject of problem resolution is fresh in my mind because I recently changed phone and Internet services, and it did not go very smoothly. I'm pretty sure most of the issues were caused by the service provider I left, but the fact was that my new provider was having a hard time getting my phone lines to work properly.

In the midst of all this, a young lady named Sarah raised my opinion of her company, even though the problems persisted. Sarah had left a voice mail for me on the day before my service switched over. She left a phone number to call in case I needed it.

Unfortunately, I needed it. But the surprising thing to me is that the number was not to a "help desk." It was her direct extension.

Over the course of three days, my phone lines gave the company problems that their technicians had never encountered before. (I guess I'm lucky that way.) But each time I had an issue, I was able to call Sarah directly. She was friendly and consistently empathetic. She also followed up my calls with updates when appropriate.

And once the problems were resolved, several folks within the company called to verify that things were working properly.

In a situation that easily could have led to a strained or lost relationship, the problem-solving efforts of the company, and Sarah in particular, strengthened it. My opinion of the company actually improved while dealing with multiple technical problems.

Sure, we would all prefer if problems, mistakes, and misunderstandings never happened, but in the real world, they do.

How do your company's problem-solving skills stack up to your competition's skills? Sales role-plays are pretty standard in most bankers' training. Are problem resolution role-plays part of your training, as well? I would suggest that those skills may help retain and grow relationships better than most "sales skills."

No matter how efficient our systems and employees, there will be problems and misunderstandings involving customers. Will the manner in which they are resolved strengthen or weaken those relationships — and your business?

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