Three Customer Service Improvement Strategies (Even When You Can’t Solve The Problem)
Compassionate businesses utilize these three customer service improvement strategies, even if they can’t solve the problem; 1) Acknowledge the customer’s emotions, 2) Seek first to understand, and 3) Make a commitment you can keep.
Many companies have taken customer service to such a high level that there’s almost no effort, risk or accountability anymore. Online shopping takes a few clicks, then I wait for it to show up on my door. If I’m impatient, I can get next-day delivery. If I don’t like it, I can send it back. If I break it, they will replace it or refund me, no questions asked. If I make a scene, I can probably get my meal comped.
Does anyone remember the days when you actually had to stand in line to return something? And, you had to actually explain yourself? The customer service representative would examine the product, ask you questions, and sometimes refuse to return it because something was suspicious or didn’t meet their criteria. In those days, I remember a few discussions or minor arguments at the counter, but nothing major.
Nowadays, a customer service representative might get yelled at, threatened, berated, and treated like the enemy. There have always been customers who were misinformed, malicious, or trying to get something for free. But now they are also entitled and have no accountability. They act like they deserve to get something for free, even when they were in the wrong. And things really get bad when the customer service agent has limited authority to actually solve the problem.
Do you think there’s any connection between the race for ever better customer service, and entitled customers who take no responsibility for their part of the relationship?
Nevertheless, some people handle upset customers better than others. I love to study customer service improvement strategies, especially since so much of it has to do with communication and conflict, my two favorite topics. And, since I travel a lot, I get to see a lot of upset customers. Here’s what I’ve noticed about how the best agents deal with upset customers using compassionate customer service improvement strategies, even when they can’t immediately solve the problem.
Three Customer Service Improvement Strategies
Step 1: Acknowledge the customer’s emotions
Customers generally don’t have a problem unless there’s a gap between what want and what they are experiencing. Even then, they don’t usually speak up unless the emotional energy in that gap reaches a certain threshold. That threshold is unique to each person, and the emotional energy is real and significant for each person.
Great customer service recognizes that a customer’s emotional experience is real and powerful, even if their behavior is inappropriate or their demands are unreasonable.
Customers get louder trying to “be heard” when they don’t “feel heard.”
They escalate the volume and intensity of their demands when they don’t sense that you care about how they are feeling.
So, the first step is to figure out and acknowledge the feeling.
- Thank you for bringing this to my attention.
- I see you are upset and hear you.
- Wow, I hate it when that happens.
- I care about how you are feeling. This seems really frustrating.
- Remember that validating the customer’s feeling doesn’t condone their behavior, nor is it an admission of guilt or blame.
- If you don’t know how they are feeling, or they haven’t told you, it’s OK to use generic phrases like, “that must be so hard,” or “I hate when that happens.”
- 7 Powerful Proactive Responses to Hot Emotion, by Dan Rockwell.
Step 2: Seek first to understand, not to be understood
When dealing with upset customers, you have probably figured out what’s going on before they even finished explaining the problem. You’ve seen this before, you know the rules. You might be rolling your eyes on the inside.
Knowledge and experience can become a liability because it prevents you from being curious.
Compassionate customer service improvement strategies use curiosity to unpack the problem behind the problem. The accusations and brash demands customers make are rarely the real problem, but they are a reflection of how the customer is trying to solve it.
How do you find out the real problem? Get curious. Avoid your need to correct the customer or explain your side of the story, and focus on honing your customer service improvement strategies. Instead, seek to understand their situation with curious, open-ended questions. Assume you are ignorant of their situation and want to learn all you can.
- I’d like to know what happened. Will you explain it to me?
- What is most important for me to know about the situation?
- What have you tried so far? (in customer support situations)
- What’s your most pressing concern right now?
- I want to be sure I understand your situation. Anything else?
- Avoid “why” questions. These invite defensiveness because they seem like interrogation. An alternative to “why” is, “How did you make sense of that?”
- Ask several follow-up questions. This shows you are truly committed to understanding them.
Step 3: Make a commitment you can keep
A customer might expect you to solve their problem in a way you can’t reasonably do, at least without undermining your own polices. That’s a tough situation, and because you have been curious at Step 2, you have a lot more information now; you aren’t flying blind.
In Step 1 of these customer service improvement strategies, you showed the customer that you cared about how they feel. In Step 2 you showed them you are curious about their experience. Step 3 is when you show them they can count on you to do your best to help them.
Although you might not be able to solve their problem, keep your focus on the things you have control over. Instead of saying, “My hands are tied, that’s the policy,” you could say, “I promise to get my manager. What’s the best way to notify you when she’s available?”
Compassionate customer service positions you as an advocate, not an adversary.
How can you go above and beyond by maximizing the impact of what you can control? This shows the customer that they can count on you to do your best and you’re focused on customer service improvement strategies.
- I’ll help you find what you are looking for. You can count on me to stay with you until we find it.
- I will look for a room that’s ready. It might not have an ocean view. If I find a room, may I have your permission to change your reservation?
- Although I can’t authorize this credit, I can talk to my finance department and get back with you as soon as I know.
- I promise not to hang up until I know you are connected with the right person.
- It’s OK to set boundaries without blaming, as in the third example above.
- It’s OK to ask for a commitment from the customer as well, as in the second example above.
- If you can’t solve the problem, as least be a partner with the customer along the journey, as in the fourth example.
Where have you seen great customer service improvement strategies? With poor customer service, what was missing?