Accidental Upward Delegation

What's "accidental upward delegation"?  A lot of customers are referred to us after having been told by a friend or coworker or someone what the other person thinks the problem might be, and this sets the customer off on a path of chasing steps toward an uncertain conclusion, versus what they want, which is someone to own the problem and get to the answer.  To make matters worse, if the customer is even somewhat technical, they might accidentally get wrapped up in one technical step after another, and lose focus on the overarching business goal of getting the situation fixed
Most technicians are guilty of accidental upward delegation of troubleshooting and repair steps - the responsibilities that are part of their job - to their customers all the time. The conditions for this are interesting, and the problem is almost everywhere you look.  But preventing upward delegation - while tricky - is possible.  I'll address that later in this blog post.  For business people needing service, it will save time and money.  For technicians, it will create new levels of customer satisfaction.

First, why does this happen?

Next time you're near a technician and a customer talking, just listen in to the conversation:  Customers tend to ask questions in an attempt to understand what needs to happen to get their problem fixed, usually because they don't expect a tech to start by asking what they want as end results and then commiting to simply making it happen;  Instead of assuming what most customers really want "Can you take care of me and just make it work?", the tech's impulse is to offer forward advice for possible "quick fixes" and steps that they can take, often assuming they're saving the customer money in doing so. Now luck plays a part in the process, and many customers go down a path of taking one step after another, repeatedly coming back to their technician having completed one step, realizing it's not working, and coming back with yet another question, "what's do you think the problem is...?".
This isn't necessarily the tech's fault: Most service centers and help desks have constrained resources, and to make matters worse, most managers don't give their technicians the lattitude, time and encouragement to take whatever time is required to solve the problem correctly.   
So most technicians immediately start addressing symptoms, troubleshooting, and sharing their knowledge, their experiences and their answers.  And there's some self-satisfaction in having answers to the customer's questions. And often techs feel that a little bit of "free" advice may save the customer money compared to a formal, comprehensive diagnostic, which can sometimes take significant time, which they're concerned the customer will be really dissatisfied with.   Unfortunately, most people have no idea how much time and money a business owner or other professional loses when they're wrapped up in the technical problem and troubleshooting, instead of simply having the tech handle it.  

How to prevent Accidental Upward Delegation

It's really simple, but it takes the right attitude, and a deep understanding of what's really important to the customer.   Take any problem a customer brings forward, and simply offer to own it.  What's involved in owning it? First, find out what the customer expects to be able to do when everything is said and done.   That comes before everything else: Diagnosing the problem and getting to the actual root cause, presenting the solution (not a guess), presenting the customer with the solution, then implementing it and demonstrating the results the customer wants.

Of course, one could always start installing or configuring without a diagnostic process when the customer doesn't see value in it, as long as the preferred process is offerred as an option. That way, if things doesn't work as expected, we can go right back to the process that works 100% of the time and keep good customer relations!