Bear in the Cave

One of the most challenging customer care moments is picking up the phone or sitting down in a meeting and running into the “Bear in the Cave.”  The customer is upset and angry.  The result potential ranges from a customer relationship permanently damaged and significant satisfaction recovery expense, to a customer who loves you and reaffirms their decision to have partnered with you.  The driving factor for your result is customer engagement skills, and the reality is most customer facing folks are not ready to effectively handle this situation.

Customer engagement masters quickly turn these situations into focused efforts to resolve issues and end up with the customer appreciating how you engaged.  But, if team members are not ready for or capable of handling the bear in the cave, the situation can quickly deteriorate.  The customer becomes even more upset.  Teammates often bear in the cave each other in the investigation process.  In an effort to salvage customer satisfaction, significant expense and gives are often thrown at the situation sucking profits from the business.   These situations often bubble up through leadership sucking energy and comradery out of the organization.   At Finding Winners we conduct web video team training programs that role-play these scenarios. It’s amazing how in initial sessions, both front line and senior customer care staff make basic mistakes in how they handle the bear in the cave.  

How do you become great at handling bears in the cave?  Unfortunately reading articles like this, attending seminars, or watching webinars does not do it.  You have to role play these situations.  The scenarios and players have to be real.  The playing team needs to be cross functional, like the response mechanism is in the real world.  Everyone has to be ready to get better and be ready to push through any concerns about how others execute, or rather don’t execute properly.  There has to be a coach who calls it as they see it, delivers hard feedback, but also motivates focus, discussion and agreement on what we should do differently.  A CEO can pull off the coaching role, but a VP often can’t because of suspected bias and a tendency to defend their team’s view of the world. 

There is another option.  At Finding Winners we offer a specific skills program called “Bear in the Cave.”  Cross functional teams of six to eight people are selected – sales, tech support, project management, account management, etc.  It does not have to be everyone who is in your Customer Care mechanism, but most clients put together multiple teams and run them all through the four-week training program.  Each team plays the same situations in web video training sessions which are recorded.  Executives should participate or be ready to participate as Stars.  It’s a great chance to guide the organization towards working together more effectively by example, and they often get better as well. 

The key to our success is that web video team role plays blow away ego.  Everyone sees what just happened.  It was real.  They are working with an experienced coach who can say what needs to be said based on how something went well or not well in the course of the play.   Coaches provide perspective on why folks do what they do, why those choices often don’t work and most importantly an example of how it could be done differently.  The Coach’s job is to motivate the learning of customer engagement skills, new ways to approach a customer care moment that will be far more effective.  The benefits of new ways exercised in the scenario, is usually obvious to everyone.   

We select two scenarios usually tied to real customer situations spec’d out in RFP / Scope of Work type documents – so everyone can easily get acclimated to the customer situation.  A sloppy project start, a botched support situation, or an undelivered functionality scenario are examples of what we play.  The client picks the scenarios they want the team to evolve their response mechanism for.  Everyone watches a webinar in advance of the program.  Then we do four 90-minute web video role-play sessions, which are recorded, taking place over a four-week period.   Everyone will do multiple plays.  

The sessions go through role plays of various customer engagement moments that occur in the overall process of handling the scenario.  When the customer first calls, the internal explore conversations, customer explore calls, and the final customer update.   We play precalls prior to customer calls to cement in a planning step most teams miss.  Each engagement is peer reviewed and feedback provided from the coach on what might work better.  Most folks struggle the first time through.  The coach, who initially plays the customer, teaches off of what was just observed.  The coach often role reverses to show the team a better way. Then role reverses again to give the play team a chance to do it again with a better result.  Teams can go back and watch recorded sessions to better process feedback.    Often supporting skills webinars are sent out which focus on a particular skills gap emphasized in the session. 

We ask folks to play different roles in the plays (even the customer), so they get a chance to feel what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes and show how they would do it.   We invite guest stars into the sessions to play a role, trying to make things fun and allow folks to demonstrate progress. Watching a recorded session, you will see folks laughing and having fun, but also starting to give solid improvement feedback to each other.  The team learns how to engage as a team and the benefit of that in these high-risk customer situations.  In the end everyone feels better about the future.   The next time a bear in the cave shows up at your door, they are ready, better execution yields better results, and folks get even more focused on becoming customer engagement masters.

We produce highlight reels from selected sessions based on guidance from the CEO, so that folks can see how other groups are doing (struggling or excelling on a skill).  These highlight reels become must watch components for new folks joining the team, or for a broader group whom you want to help get better and can’t run through the in-person program.   These often end up being a here’s how you do it video series.  The highlight reels become a long-term training tool and a way for new folks to see the stars in your organization in action.

The program ends up not only fixing your bear in the cave challenge, but, tightening up the team in a way you can never seem to do in company meetings or departmental discussions.  The pay back is instantaneous.  Not only do you save the satisfaction recovery expense, time and gives you previously invested, but, when customers love you, the revenue growth yield of referrals and having customer advocates in the market is huge.   The morale impact is instantaneous as well.  The process of sharing ideas, suggesting change in approach and walking in each other’s shoes occurs in the thunderstorm of a real customer situation, and with a coach who guides the team to a better place.

You will see several major changes in your company which are profoundly impactful:

  • The customer is managed in a way which demonstrates you understand their frustration and pain, without giving up your need to research a situation to understand what happened.  No more teflon behavior towards the company or teammates.  Skills are exercised which shift anger into focus on climbing the mountain.
  • The team learns the power of engaging as a team with the bear in the cave, and the right preparation that is required for team calls to be effective. 
  • Communications with customers and internally become crisper, folks expect and give hard commitments versus soft ones and hold each other accountable in a positive way.
  • The team learns how to get better on their own.  Nothing stops the process from continuing after the initial Finding Winners Program.  By going through a process that works in terms of skills development and change discussion, as long as you have a good internal coach, you can keep playing scenarios every month on your own. 

The next time you hear about a bear in the cave customer situation, or the organization blows up in aggressive cross functional communications surrounding a customer satisfaction issue, keep in mind you are only a four week Finding Winners program away from making major progress towards burying that experience going forward.