Problem Solving Techniques Agents Should Learn

Problem Solving

It may sound cynical but if “problems” did not exist, we would rarely have the desire to improve or learn in life. They generally persist as challenges that we need to overcome by understanding how, why and where they occur, and then find ways to resolve them with problem solving techniques . The same principles are applicable to the world of business, no different from everyday life.

Every problem has a solution, provided you approach it rationally. In fact, this has become so essential that Career Builder, an employment website, showed that in over 47,000 job vacancies listed on it, ‘problem solving’ attribute was a major requirement for the applicants.

As an agent, you could face a number of issues that can hinder your work. Not surprisingly, these can come in many shapes and sizes:

Unrealistic Expectations

Unlike other professions, sometimes clients expect migration and education agents to give them free advice over the phone or during their first visit. This rarely happens with other service-oriented professionals like doctors, lawyers, and accountants. Most often, clients want to know if they can get the visa.

In such scenarios, make it a point to tell them clearly that even though they may be eligible for a visa, it is not a guarantee. Have your prices and consulting fees on display in all your promotional materials, including website, social media page and physical office. Don’t give clients the impression that you are giving them free advice. In addition, be realistic and upfront about the facts that are not in your control, such as health issues, changes in immigration law, and so on.

Create an in-house questionnaire that you can hand over to clients during their first visit or have them fill it online. The questionnaire should cover everything you need to know about their intentions to migrate or study, enough to gauge if they are genuinely eligible for the visa.

False Documents

Many times, documents available in the client’s country of origin do not match immigration requirements of the host country. This happens quite often, but you should make sure clients know the consequences of handing out false documents as alternatives.

Some clients chose not to mention this to their advisers and provide fake documents to fulfill their criteria. Make this one of your main priorities and tell clients that this is unacceptable.  Don’t just make it a verbal statement but put it as a major clause in all your documents. Issues like these will hamper your agency’s integrity too.

To avoid such embarrassing moments, use a screening process in your agency that will help separate genuine applicants from others. Also, stay in touch with the immigration department regularly and inform them of such cases immediately!

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Changes in Immigration Law

Immigration laws and policies are subject to change, as per country requirements. These changes may not be so dramatic or frequent, but keeping track of them is essential. If a law changes in the middle of a client application or while applying, then an uninformed agent will surely make an uninformed decision, jeopardizing the client’s prospects for a visa.

In this age of digital communications, it has become a necessity to have an online presence. If you subscribe to immigration news, you will know about these policy changes beforehand and can advise the clients accordingly. There are many private and government websites that give out immigration news and updates like Acacia Immigration Australia  and Campus Review , to name a few.

Immigration Law Enforcement Officers

Many agents find it daunting and difficult to deal with immigration officers, even to the extent of avoiding them as much as possible. However, this sort of attitude creates a negative impact on the overall relationship, making each other highly suspicious of the motives. Be mindful of the fact that immigration officers are there to enforce immigration laws, so don’t take it personally.

The best way to deal with this problem is to be transparent in the information you provide on your websites and social media pages. To enhance your credibility, actively engage in online and offline communities that address immigration issues. Be honest about your services and instill this attitude among your clients too!

Whatever the nature of the issues may be, here are some in-house problem solving guidelines from a managerial perspective that will help you stay on track:

Step 1: Identify & Define the Problem

Identify Problem
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This is the first and most basic step to start the process. Find out the possibilities that can constitute a problem in your business.

  • Something is not working but you don’t know why
  • The market is not buying your service
  • Customers complaints are increasing

You can effectively find the cause of the problem only when you have a clear understanding of what it is. The secret to successfully identifying and defining the problem is mostly about our attitude. To define it optimally, you must try to see each problem as an opportunity.

Problems are only opportunities in work clothes. — Henri Kaiser

Step 2: Analyze the Problem

Now that we know what it is, the next logical step is to analyze this problem, a process of discovering the facts and finding out as much as possible about its cause. This helps in separating the assumptions from the facts, so we can move ahead objectively. At this stage, it is important to involve the right people in your company.

You can choose them by asking ‘Does anyone know about the issue or the situation that is causing the problem?’ ‘Does the person have enough information to find solutions?’ Once this is sorted, you will have a team that can work together to find the right solutions. This team should figure why customer complaints are increasing, not just generally, but in as much detail as possible.

Ask pertinent questions and make a checklist of possibilities. Where is the source of this issue? Are customers filing complaints via your office phone, website or social media page? Try to answer further questions like:

  • How often do these complaints arise?
  • Are they about the same issue?
  • Has the same customer reported this previously?
  • What is the response from your team each time they receive a complaint?
  • Is the customer satisfied with your response?

Step 3: Search Viable Solutions

Now that you understand what the problem really is, it is time to get the team working on it. Try to figure the best way to resolve the issue. This process will also spring new ideas about your business.

  • Find out its effects on your business. Direct effects could be losing old customers, unable to attract newer ones, garnering a bad reputation in the market, low employee morale, and so on.
  • Once you explain the problem, including its cause and effects to the team, encourage each of them to express as many ideas as they can think about. After this, discuss all the ideas, however silly they may seem initially. Then select the best ones for further review.
  • Go through your list of ideas and cross-out those that won’t work. Each idea you pick will have positive and negative effects. Write down the pros and cons, and brainstorm with your team to find out what works best for this particular problem.

Step 4: Fine-Tune Solutions

Now that your team has found ideas and solutions to the existing problem, the next step is to check it further and fine-tune, if needed. Remember, even the best solutions can fail if implemented incorrectly! Ask your team the following questions and design a plan of action, which includes all these details:

  • Who all will be involved in this process?
  • Who will be in-charge?
  • What is the course of action?
  • Does it entail training and workshops on customer service?
  • When does it start: time and day?

This sort of exercise will give your team more clarity on their ideas as well as lay the groundwork for successful implementation.

Step 5: Evaluate Plan of Action

Before you implement the plan of action, it’s good to sit with your team and evaluate it and re-check if it’s actually workable and suitable for the company. Try to see if the team can answer questions like these:

  • Is the plan simple enough to be understood by those who will be implementing it?
  • Will it be effective?
  • Will it demean anyone in the company or their designation?
  • Is the time frame practical and achievable?
  • Is there anything that may have been overlooked?
  • Who will monitor the outcome?
  • Is the plan cost-effective?

Implementing the plan is the good part but it’s not always easy and you may come across some obstacles, so be ready! Before you launch the plan of action, think of the various hurdles you might encounter and work out ways to overcome them. Make a checklist of possible scenarios:

  • Employees procrastinating
  • Employees resisting change
  • Not enough time to implement the solution
  • Employees feel its overwork and not part of their initial contract
  • You may need to re-brand your services

Step 6: Train Your Employees

Team Work
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Your company employees may have undergone training previously, but it should not keep you from re-training them, if needed. In a situation where customer complaints are a direct result of their interaction with your company representatives, training becomes necessary. It’s a good way to assess them again as well as bring back the team spirit. The biggest question you can ask yourself is “How will I get my employees to support this solution and adapt to a changing work environment?” Some of these methods can be:

  • The employees who are directly involved in customer relations should be an integral part of this process, including managers and supervisors.
  • Conduct in-house workshops to make sure everyone understands why this is important for them and the company. Ask them for their feedback as well.
  • Circulate in-house questionnaires, which will help you gauge the attitude and aptitude of the employees. It can also bring out fresh ideas.
  • Develop a training program for current and future employees, based on your problem solving methodology. Let your managers supervise it.
  • The training program should also include your company guidelines for customer service as well as any country-specific norms, regional or international standards that are mandatory.
  • The training program should be informative as well as fun and interactive. The employees should not feel under pressure or else their performance will suffer.

Step 7: Role-Play Ideas & Solutions

Before you start implementing the plan of action extensively, your team should be able to role-play how it works. The benefit of doing so is that they will be able to assess whether the solution they have thought of will actually work in a real-life scenario. One of the employees can pretend to be the customer and the other can be the company representative. This way they will most likely not only support your solution, but also make sure that it works. Pay close attention to the following points:

  • How they implement the solution
  • Their reactions, both customer and representative
  • Their understanding of the solution
  • Are they following the company’s customer service guidelines?
  • Does it match or exceed customer expectations?

Based on what you observe, you may need to revise some of your plans. Don’t worry about it too much though and take it as just another positive step in the process.

Step 8: Evaluate & Monitor

Once the in-house role-play gives more clarity about how these ideas will work, it’s time to test it out in reality. The team or person in-charge of this should not only monitor the interactions between client and representative, but also evaluate its impact on sales and customer conversions. Based on these questions you should be able to create a monitoring and evaluation guideline:

  • How are the customers reacting to this new approach?
  • How are the representatives handling this new approach?
  • Have the complaints reduced since implementing this process?
  • Is your company getting referrals from current customers?
  • Are the solutions affecting client conversions?
  • Is perception about your company’s services changing in the market?

Overall roadblocks to problem solving

Many of these practices and the attitudes related to solving such issues should become a part of your overall agency culture. These are general things for you to keep in mind, to avoid roadblocks in the problem solving process and move ahead efficiently.

  • Don’t let old bad habits persist in the workplace
  • Overcome the fear of trying out new ideas
  • Instead of making assumptions or speculating, look for facts and figures to support your problem solving methods
  • Don’t fall into the trap of offering quick-fix solutions, without fully evaluating the problem. It may temporarily resolve the issue, but it may not be the right answer to long-term sustainability of your services
  • Stay away from hasty emotional responses and always make an attempt to be as rational as possible
  • Teamwork is essential, so make sure no one feels left out in the process
  • Train your employees to be apologetic to customers, if needed
  • Don’t make promises you can’t deliver
  • Be willing to go that extra mile to satisfy your customers!

Solving problems is never a cakewalk, but doing it the right way can do wonders for your morale, sales and future business prospects.