No matter how successful your business is, you are bound to cross paths with irate, irrational, or just plain mean customers once in a while.
The good news is, you can be a hero in that moment and rescue yourself, your customer, and your company from a potentially bad situation.
Whether you’re communicating in person, by phone, email, or live chat, it’s stressful trying to communicate with an aggravated person. But, if you handle it with care, it might be an opportunity to address their concerns effectively enough to win their loyalty.
I supervise our software customer support team, and recently I heard some comments in the office about a customer who had called us a couple times and was very upset about having to upgrade their software to use it on their new operating system.
I think that most conflicts are caused by misunderstandings. I emailed the customer and invited him to call and ask to speak with me. When he did, I did more listening than speaking. While he explained his disappointment at length, I realized that while we thought he was resistant to upgrading his software, he had an inaccurate impression that the upgrade wouldn’t work with his operating system, so he was going to be forced to use a completely different program that didn’t have the features he wanted.
Once I apologized for any misunderstandings and explained to him that the upgrade of his software would, in fact, work on his operating system and that it was available at a discounted rate, he admitted that he might have made some assumptions. He also asked me to tell the members of my team he had spoken to that they were very kind, patient, and excellent representatives of a company that obviously cares about their customers.
I followed up our call with an email summarizing the instructions, price, and technical requirements for his upgrade and how he could contact us if he needs help. Sending all the details in writing helped prevent any further confusion. While some comments can be easily missed on the phone, emails provide a good record of exactly what information was sent and received.
Your response to negative feedback can have a surprising impact on your business. With the power of social media, one customer’s bad experience can become viral, so planning how you might react before you’re in the heat of the moment may help you avoid pitfalls. As Bill Murphy, Jr. states in this article about a feedback response gone bad, “If you can’t react constructively, don’t put yourself in a position to react at all.”
The thing about customer service superpowers is that with intentional practice, you and your team can improve over time. But be sure that you’re also looking for indications of these qualities whenever you’re adding someone new to the team. It’s easy to overlook this skill set, especially if you’re hiring someone who will be wearing multiple hats and juggling a range of responsibilities.
Superpower #1: Supersonic hearing
You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what or where it is. Listening with an open mind helps you to fully understand the nuances of the situation and gives you time to tailor your response.
This can help you avoid setting off a person’s triggers that would escalate their frustrations. Remember how you felt the last time you tried to tell someone about a problem you wanted to be solved, and their reply was completely unrelated to what you were describing?
I’m a customer service professional, so I am usually very amiable toward the agents I speak to, but even I have lost my cool when I got the runaround from phone company representatives. It is exhausting!
Someone who’s upset will often feel validated by being heard. It may inspire them to reciprocate by listening to your suggestions. It’s difficult for someone to clearly communicate information when they’re upset, so it may take time to find the details you need to resolve the issue.
1. Pay close attention to the wording of the incoming message. Anticipate additional questions they may have but didn’t state. If the message is entirely too vague to properly answer, ask specific questions to gather more information.
2. Begin your reply by thanking the customer for the question and rephrase it to make it clear you understand the issue.
3. Be certain your response is tailored to their question. If you use a template response, personalize it. Let them know you’re a human being who cares.
4. Ask the customer to reply if they have additional questions. Let them know it’s a two-way conversation, not just an automatic response.
How to use your supersonic hearing:
Customer’s email message: “Nothing’s working! I need this fixed, immediately!”
My response: “Thanks for letting me know things aren’t working for you. I can tell you need to get this resolved, right away. If you are receiving an ‘Uh-oh’ error, here’s a link to some instructions to resolve that.
If that’s not the problem, I’d like to know more about what happened, specifically, so I may best help you. Please reply and tell me:
- What are you attempting to do?
- What happens when you do that? If you receive an error message, please tell me exactly what it states.
I’ll watch out for your reply and respond as quickly as possible.”
Superpower #2: Empathy
Empathy and an apology can surprise someone expecting their complaint to be ignored, and it may help earn trust. Some people avoid apologizing for a problem because it may imply they are at fault. If it was your company’s mistake, own it.
If not, even though the customer isn’t always right, their emotions about it are real and an important part of their experience with your company. Telling them you’re sorry for the experience they had can produce a calmer response while keeping a door open for a mutually beneficial outcome.
How to respond with empathy:
Customer’s email message: “I’ve been trying to print my document for the past hour and it keeps coming out with no text in it!”
My response: “Thanks for letting me know your document isn’t printing properly. I’m sorry this has taken up more of your time than it should. The same thing happened to me recently and it was so frustrating.
Fortunately, I discovered a solution in the process, which I can share with you. It just requires the three steps I’ve listed below. Please give it a try and let me know if it doesn’t fix the problem.”
Superpower #3: Precognition
You can’t always predict the future, so you need your customer’s feedback to alert you to problems. Even if your interaction is unpleasant, try to appreciate the time he takes to tell you something went wrong.
If someone returns a product without giving you feedback, you miss the chance to learn why they were unsatisfied. Value his opinion. He’s probably not the only one who feels the way he does since many people don’t bother to report issues.
This article from 1Financial Training services says that 96 percent of unhappy customers don’t complain, however, 91 percent of them will simply leave and never come back. Stopping a small leak in a dam can prevent it from growing into a much bigger problem.
How to respond when your customer offers legitimate criticism:
Customer’s email message: “I can’t find where to edit the user permissions in my account. Why is it so hard to find?”
My response: “Thank you so much for alerting us to the issue you’re having with finding the user settings. I have shared this information with our development team for consideration, and we created a new Help Center article (link below) that illustrates exactly how to find those settings.
Your feedback is very important to us. I’d be happy to hear more of your suggestions anytime. Here’s how you can contact us…”
Superpower #4: Indestructible shield
Shield yourself from negativity. Keep your eye on a positive outcome. Use language with a positive tone, relevant to the present or future. Avoid a debate about who did what to whom.
Pause and consider: Could your response be interpreted as an excuse or accusation? The good thing about receiving complaints by email is that you have the luxury of taking time to craft your response. Write it, review it, delete anything negative, then send. If the intensity of the complaint impacts you personally, find ways to ground yourself, and move on to disarming them with an effective solution.
They may not appreciate your efforts as much as you’d like, but you can take pride in the fact you’re doing your job well and your business will benefit from it. Find ways to restore your energy after the incident, too.
Even Wonder Woman has to take time to recharge sometimes. Shift your attention to something you enjoy, or take a moment to remember the customers who do show their appreciation.
How to shift the negative into a positive with a real solution:
Customer’s email message: “I just talked with one of your agents and was very disappointed. I wanted templates related to my business and she couldn’t help me with that. She said there was no way you could provide templates for every type of business. If you’re going to provide templates, they should apply to everyone.”
My response: “Thanks for your email. I’m sorry you weren’t happy with our service. Your feedback is important to us and I’ll follow up with our team to let them know how you felt. I’d like to help you find solutions for your needs.
We agree your templates should be appropriate for your situation. That’s why we chose to provide a selection of examples, but made it possible for you to edit them and add your own customized templates. I have included the instructions for that, below. Please let me know if you have questions or additional feedback.”
Superpower #5: Utility belt
The tools you can access quickly to resolve issues without escalating the issue to a supervisor can quickly save the day. A customer will notice and appreciate when a benefit is easily applied without a manager’s approval. When an employer respects their employee’s skill and good judgment, trains them well and empowers them to do the needful, operations will be more efficient and customers will be more satisfied.
The phone company agents I mentioned earlier were not at fault for my frustration. The problem was that no one I spoke to had any authority to resolve my issue. The small expense of a courtesy benefit can lead to returning customers and greater profits over time. Know what you have to work with, and use it creatively to rescue a potentially dreadful experience.
How to save the day for your customer:
Customer’s email message: “I didn’t realize this was a monthly subscription and I was charged today, unexpectedly. I can’t afford this! Cancel it now.”
My response: “Thanks for letting me know the fee you paid was unexpected. We don’t want anyone to be charged by surprise. I have given you a courtesy refund for today’s payment and canceled the subscription.
If you did find the program useful and would like to use it later, you can reactivate this account using the instructions below. In case you’d like to review the subscription terms, I also included a link to our signup page that includes that information. Please let me know if you have any questions, and thanks for trying our program.”
But it’s not magic
There’s no magic potion to guarantee a perfect result since all people and circumstances are unique, but these customer service superpowers, combined with your instincts and experience, can help you discover what works best for you and your team.
Over time, it’ll become second nature take the right steps to avoid misunderstandings, hurt feelings, or anger triggers—and your business will benefit from your customer-focused approach.
Posted in: Customer Service