If you’ve ever worked in customer service, there’s a good chance you’ve had to deal with cranky, unreasonable, lying (or at least, exaggerating) customers.
It can be sooooo frustrating!
And yet, we keep preaching that our front line staff have to be nice to customers. Be respectful. Be empathetic.
Is that even a reasonable thing to expect of our staff?
The Point Is Not To Prove Who’s Right
Today’s podcast guest, Adam Toporek, author of Be Your Customer’s Hero: Real World Tips and Techniques for the Front Line, knows first hand about unreasonable customers: he’s spent many years in retail having to deal with them.
The trick, he maintains, is to give the customer the benefit of the doubt, but, as they used to say in nuclear disarmament talks “trust, but verify.”
He’s a strong advocate of documentation, because there are some customers who will try to take advantage of you. Ultimately you may have to stop giving them the benefit of the doubt. Documentation will help you know when that time has come.
That said, when customers return products or want refunds or claim they’ve been mistreated, “the point is not to prove who’s right.” The point is to calm them down and try to turn the situation around.
So if you’ve got records proving that you had, in fact, left three phone messages for them and they insist you never called, you don’t want to get into an argument, but it may help to be able to say, “Well, our records show that we did leave messages at these three times, but I guess you didn’t get them, so now that we are talking, let’s try to get your problem resolved.”
Having the documentation will make you feel more secure and confident as you then flip the conversation away from arguing about who’s right and back to trying to find a solution that everyone will be comfortable with.
The documentation can also help prove the customer is right. Our memories and perceptions are not very accurate. We may firmly believe that we called the customer three times, when in fact, we thought about it several times but only actually called and left a message once. Having the documentation helps avoid exaggeration on both sides of the counter.
“It’s a balance,” says Toporek, “Sometimes you have to say no, but often small businesses go too far the other way.”
Empowering Employees To Really Help Customers
In the interview we also discussed the need to give customer service employees guidelines and training so that they know how to handle different types of customer problems, and what level of compensation they can offer without having to get permission. (Here’s a link to Adam’s extensive article on employee empowerment: http://customersthatstick.com/employee-empowerment/)
As Sue Miller discovered when she tried to give her customer service staff full freedom, you don’t want staff bothering you for approvals to spend reasonable amounts of money to make customers happy, but they may need some limits.
Sometimes they realize that a customer is being unreasonable, but don’t want to have to be the one to say no.
What that cut-off level will be depends on your business, but try to keep it pretty high. If you give your employees great training in dispute resolution, they won’t generally have to spend anywhere near the limit. And really, what most customers want more than money is understanding and empathy.
Getting customer service right ultimately comes down to people. Technology can help, but it will never be able to solve every problem. And to defuse a ticking time bomb of a customer, good people skills and human connection will trump the best of technology any day.