Emotions escalate when a customer is forced to call technical support multiple times for an ongoing problem. Frustration increases when someone has to retell the entire problem with each contact, and customer loyalty plummets.

To help customer-service reps deal with repeat calls, many firms use their databases to summarize previous interactions with customers.

RapidFire Solutions, a supplier of restaurant computer systems, goes one step further. This Hillsboro, Ore., firm posts the names of clients experiencing ongoing problems on a white board visible to all support-line employees. This critical board tells phone reps which clients need kid-glove treatment. On any given day, three or four of RapidFire's 2,000 customers are listed on the board.

Using the critical board, tech-support reps can instantly identify callers who need understanding and care beyond the usual discussion of solutions to problems. Those listed are to receive extraordinary levels of empathy and service should they call in. Who gets listed on the critical board? It depends on the customer's perception of need, says Barry Barckley, RapidFire's technical support manager. "While no one likes an ongoing problem, some customers have a lower tolerance than others. The critical board lets us know when we need to put on our best shoes and tie."

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing