The bottom line in any service interaction and engagement is to move forward toward resolution. When you feel stuck in those customer service engagements, when things are really not moving forward (or moving forward productively), maintain the following tricks up your sleeve to gain some traction.
(Note: I use the term “customer service” very broadly. Customers can be clients, managers and leadership, even your colleagues.)
Customer Service Secret #1. Everyone just wants to be heard.
Stalemates are a result of one of two scenarios. Either:
- The two parties are not hearing each other, or
- There is full understanding and appreciation of each other’s position, and disagreement is the result.
What is often characterized as disagreement is really a lack of true listening, hearing and appreciation of the others’ position.
A customer will always want to be heard, first and foremost. This is how you build trust. It’s the difference between being treated like “just” a vendor or agent and being treated like a partner and problem solver. Don’t want to be treated like a grunt? Then tune into your customer and appreciate their perspective.
There are two active listening strategies to do this.
- Mirroring. Restate what you heard from your customer to demonstrate that you were listening to them. “Let me rephrase what I heard to make sure I’ve got it right, and you can let me know if I’m on track.”
- Labeling. Go out on a limb and define how it must feel to them, if they are not communicating that themselves. “You must be livid,” or, “That has got to be frustrating for you.”
Another thing you may want to consider is auditing. Put yourself in their shoes and suggest an assessment of how you must look to them. It is a way to demonstrate that you appreciate where they’re coming from. In addition, if there is anger, calling out the possible worst representation of yourself helps to diffuse the thrust of their frustration. “I must sound like a jerk here, but I promise I’m doing my best to get an answer.”
These strategies, when used together, make the other party feel heard and understood. It can take a lot of wind out of their “attack mode” (if that’s in fact where they are – and we all know customers can be in attack mode). Once you are able to demonstrate to them that you have an appreciation for the position they’re in, you can move onto Secret #2.
Customer Service Secret #2. What they SAY the problem is might not really be the exact problem to solve.
What a customer might communicate as the problem is often their experience being at the receiving end of a frustrating, confusing, or otherwise uncomfortable situation. They might come at you with the immediate goal of resolving that discomfort for them. Customer Service Secret #1 above will go a long way toward helping them get that resolution.
You don’t want to just provide service. You want to provide the right service.
The customer is unlikely to want to talk about solving a deeper problem if they don’t trust that you have an appreciation for their perspective. In order to make real headway, you need to be able to (1) identify the root problem to solve, and (2) get agreement from the other party that what you identified is really where effort should be directed.
Do not feel pressured to give the customer anything they demand in order to resolve their frustration. Instead, solve the real problem for them, and you solve their frustration in the same stroke.
Customer Service Secret #3. Don’t respond to a customer’s outcome question with a process answer.
Ever call a company to inquire about a pressing problem? Of course! We all have. So what separates the good service from the bad service?
The worst response to these outcome-based questions is process. It can be infuriating to a customer, so instead, give them a outcome-based answer, even if it’s an estimate or a range.
A broad, outcome-focused answer to a question is always better than a very specific process-focused answer.
Let me illustrate with examples. Notice the difference in tenor of each response.
Q. My internet is down. When will it be up?
- A1. Our service personnel are currently in the field investigating. They are having to do X, Y, and Z in order to determine the source of the outage. When they report back on why the service is down, we will be able to provide a timeline then.
- A2. Our current estimate is between 1 and 5 hours.
Q. I noticed a fraudulent charge on my bill. Can you remove that charge and resolve this issue?
- A1. We will need to launch a formal investigation into the charge and after we conclude that investigation, you will get a letter in the mail with our decision in 60 to 90 days.
- A2. We will remove the charge unless we determine it was not fraudulent. You will receive a new card with a new number in the mail in 7 days.
Q. What’s the prognosis?
- A1. We’ll need to run tests and more tests. And then more tests. Then we’ll see.
- A2. If well-managed, individuals with this disease may live up to 5-7 years.
Which type of response would you like to receive as a customer? Which type of response will you provide to your customers?
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