Putting the ‘Service’ back in Customer Service

by Jeff Wiener on November 2, 2012

When faced with an irate customer, service experts explain, always acknowledge the person’s feelings but never, I repeat never, tell the person to calm down. In fact, can you think of any example where telling a person to ‘calm down’ didn’t actually make the situation worse? The truth of the matter is, talk to people about customer service and most will be happy to share their personal horror stories, tales of when they were told ‘its not my problem’ or ‘sorry, its our policy,’ while, lamentably, few will have anything positive to say.

Now granted most of us have experienced the frustration of unhelpful (and oxymoronic) customer service, but the flip side of this coin is that when you phone a business looking to yell at someone, there’s (hopefully) a person on the receiving end of the call, and let me tell you, its not fun being yelled at. But there are ways for agents to effectively resolve such situations.

Simply put, when customers buy a product or service from you they want it to work, bottom line, and when it doesn’t that’s when quality customer service can make all the difference. Tell an angry customer to ‘calm down’ or that ‘it’s not your fault,’ and you’ve likely lost that customer forever; tell that same person ‘I apologize,’ and ask, ‘how can I make this right?’ and you’ve likely retained a customer for life. So here are a few tips on how to manage difficult service situations:

It should really come as no surprise that topping The Globe and Mail’s list of things customers hate to hear from customer service agents are unhelpful and often times belittling platitudes. Telling a frustrated customer that your hands are tied because ‘it’s our policy’ or forcing people to wait for hours while reminding them that ‘your call is important to us’ rank as some of the worst things hear, along with some entries like question redundancy, sarcasm, language barriers, and belligerence that make me wonder if the offending companies in question have any notion what the word ‘service’ actually means.

Instead, what customers want to hear is 1) that you care, and 2) that you’re going to do something about it…now. To that end, it should really come as no surprise as the thing that customers like to hear most is an apology. As a customer service agent, if your company has made a mistake own up to it, apologize, and resolve the situation. Customers know that no ones perfect and they’re ready to forgive, but they want to know that they’re valued and that your business actually cares.

Now saying that customer service agents need to act with tact, patience, and class doesn’t mean that they’re there to take our abuse, in fact far from it. In training my own customer service representatives I like to drive home the point that agents are  often like a bartender, the good ones let the person vent, offering a listening ear and a helping hand. Agents need to be trained to know how to stay calm and how to not escalate situations further, making sure to communicate respect to the caller instead of frustration or annoyance.

But with that said, I always train my agents how to appropriately hang up on abusive callers as well, particularly those who use inappropriate language, name calling, or threats. No one, no matter what their job, should have to put up with that.

While much of what I’ve written is directed at the customer service sector, on a grander scale I’m really talking to businesses in general. If you’re wondering how to make your customer service branch more effective, don’t implement frustrating policies and don’t make things difficult for your clients. Train your agents to communicate with tact and patience, giving them licence to resolve problems to a customer’s satisfaction (including refunds) and work to eliminate mistakes and inefficiencies in how your business operates. Then, when you do make a mistake, you’ll be better prepared to effectively fix it.

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Alexander van Dijl November 2, 2012 at 6:28 am

Customer service here in the Netherlands may well be even worse to where you are. Not only do most customer service agents not care at all, we even have to pay up to 15 cents per minute to call a customer service phone number.

I hope the companies here will also listen to what you have to say!

Thank you!

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