The Power of Certainty

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I have a friend who recently had a major malfunction in his house.  His water heater stopped working dramatically in a way that could have resulted in fire but thankfully stopped short of that.  Anyway, it was still under warranty and he called the manufacturer to get a replacement.

Sounds simple, right? It all started that way.  He made the call and the agent went through everything and guaranteed the replacement and installation.  But this is where simple ended.  The agent said they would call back with a date for arrival and installation, but that call never came and days went by without hot water.  To say this predicament made my friend’s family unhappy would be putting it mildly.

Now more phone calling started as my friend tried to learn when the water heater would arrive.  No one in the company seemed to know who was doing what and there was a lot of “we’re looking into this” talk.  As frustration and anger began to reach its maximum, my friend got a call out of the blue from a freight company saying they had a water heater to deliver to his house.  Hurrah, you might say, but the problem now was that this required some logistics as my friend was away on business and his wife and kids were out as well.  Long story short, this whole black hole of uncertainty created a lot of angst and rearranging of people’s lives in order to facilitate a simple delivery.

Now, this story isn’t just a story of bad service; it’s a story that gives a great example of a basic human need.  We all, at a fundamental level, want to know what the future holds; we simply don’t like heading down dark alleys, whether real or imagined.  We all like to have some idea of what we can expect in situations, and when we don’t, it creates discomfort, a lot of discomfort in this case.  Imagine if the water heater company had their game together and on the initial call could give my friend an accurate delivery date and a really good idea of what to expect, he would probably still be a customer who promotes the company as providing good service instead of a vocal detractor telling his horror story to anyone who will listen.

To contrast this tale of woe, let me share an example of a company who seems to understand this principle and has figured it out an innovative solution.  The company is Caliber Collision, an auto repair place specializing in body work.  Earlier this year, my daughter had a fender bender when another driver didn’t brake quickly enough and hit my daughter from behind.  The damage was significant and we needed to get the bumper replaced as well as some other body work.  On the suggestion of our insurance company, we took it to Caliber and they told us they would need the car for three to four weeks.  So we got a rental and left the car.

Now, you might be thinking, Caliber didn’t provide much certainty here, not much more than the water heater company but this is where things get really different.  Knowing that it would take a few days or even a week to get all of the parts, I was expecting maybe a couple of weeks but was pretty surprised at the three to four week wait and had that inner voice wondering why and what was going on.  As if some magic happened and someone at Caliber heard my inner voice, a text message appeared on my phone alerting me that work had started on the car.  Days later, I got another one informing me how far along they were.  Then, a few days later, I got yet another message confirming the finish date. This little touch of keeping us in the loop was amazing and gave me and my daughter our needed calm in the storm of uncertainty.

car-updates

Hopefully, this contrasting story is proof enough of the power of providing certainty and giving customers a sense of what to expect.  Hopefully, you can see the difference it makes to provide customers with information so that they know what’s coming and allows them to plan their lives better.

If you have a call center or a customer service desk or have any touch with customers at all for that matter, begin providing timelines and status updates so that your customers are completely comfortable with their order, repair, or delivery.  Make it a goal that no customer ever walks away wondering what’s happening next or where their job stands.  Removing the fundamental discomfort of feeling uninformed could be a big difference maker to your business and result in more profit, more customers, and more success.

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