The perceived wisdom is that the customer is always right.
But what do you do when you can't give the customer what he/she wants?
What do you do when the person in front of you or at the other end of the phone or behind the email that's come into your inbox is angry, abusive, frustrated, accusing?
Is the customer always right in those circumstances?
In all the years of running Customer Service training programmes both tailored and as public courses we know that one of the great frustrations that customers experience is feeling that they are being stonewalled. In turn, one of the great frustrations of sales people or customer service agents is feeling under assault especially when they can tell they're not getting through to their customers.
What's going on is that both 'sides' are experiencing the situation solely from their point of view and find it really difficult, if not impossible, to see things any other way.
As anyone who reads my blog regularly knows, I do bang on about one of the best skills you can have is the ability to see what's going on from the other person's perspective. It will always look different and can be the pathway to quick resolution of difficulties.
However, it's not the easiest thing to do because both sides are awash in emotions and emotions generally get in the way of being able to see what action to take or words to use to take the tension and conflict out of the situation.
There's something else that doesn't help and that's this weird transformation that happens to customer service people whether they be face-to-face or on the phone - they turn into stilted, formulaic script-speakers.
What I mean is that interesting, lovely people who can connect easily with others turn into slightly robotic people who stick to what they think they are supposed to say. They use language that stiff and over-formal and the warmth leaves their voices and they become slightly school-marmish. I know because I've listened in on people's calls and witnessed first-hand this 'transformation'.
It's as though all the natural charm and pleasantness in their personalities gets squashed out of them and they just sound unnatural. I think it's because they are often trained either to stick to a certain script or that over-formality keeps them safe. I'm not exactly sure, but whatever the reasons, they really do lose their ability to engage with others.
So here are a couple of tips if you are (or know of anyone who is) one of those who falls into an artificial way of speaking when dealing with a difficult customer.
Show empathy and speak like a normal human being. Use phrases such as, "It sounds like this has really upset you." "I really can hear how disappointed you are." "If I were in your shoes, I'd be just as unhappy." "How aggravating! Sounds like that's all you need to add to your frustration."
You're not bad-mouthing your organisation; you're letting the other person know that you get just how upset they are. You are also building trust.
The idea is to get the person to the point where they feel heard and understood. If you try to find a solution before they are calm enough to take it in, you won't get very far. If you tell them to calm down, that won't work either; the other person will just feel like he/she's being treated like a five year old. Even if that's how they are behaving, it's far better to reflect back that you have heard what they are saying.
Once calm, you can then tell them what you can do for them, rather than the more common response which is to tell them what you can't do.
Here you can use phrases such as, "What I can do for you is…." "Let me tell you the options we have and let's see if any of them will work." "What I can do right away is…." "I think something that might help would be…."
And then do it.
You may not be able to give them everything they demand but you will be able to offer something even if initially it is empathy and understanding and a willingness to sort it out.
By taking the time to create a connection with your angry or distressed customer you are building a more genuine relationship rather than trying to get them off the phone or away from your counter as quickly as possible.
Check out Impact Factory's Customer Service courses.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory