Tough conversations are a part of life and in business it’s not different. But tough customer conversations can be just that – tough.
In customer service, you’re bound to come across a difficult situation or two. People have bad days, get confused, and things go wrong. Angry, difficult and dissatisfied customers aren’t necessarily a reflection on how well your business is run (because people are, well, people).
Often these scenarios are the result of miscommunication and misaligned expectations. Regardless, knowing how to respond and passing that knowledge down to your team so that they can navigate the choppy waters is necessary if you want to keep your business afloat. Especially nowadays when it only takes a few clicks of a mouse to publicly shame a business.
The point is, whether a customer is coming upset because:
- you’re out of stock of the item they want,
- they want to request a feature that’s not available
- they’re just generally unhappy with your product or service.
The way you and your customer support team handle a situation can mean the difference between whether that customer remains a customer.
With a little help from these tried and true conflict resolution techniques you’ll be on your way to creating a win-win for both parties. Or at least avoiding angry tweets and reviews.
Silence Your Judgements
I don’t know about you, but if someone is yelling, impatient, condescending or even unintentionally short with their words, my first instinct is to interject with a piece of my mind. But this is the workplace we’re talking about. Responding with our initial gut reaction without thinking or listening usually isn’t the best route to take.
Instead of acting on instinct take a moment to acknowledge the assumptions of the other person. As they say, impact doesn’t always mean intent. So even though you might feel belittled or misunderstood, know that 9 times out of 10 that wasn’t the customer’s intention.
Try to take a walk in their shoes and prepare yourself to listen to their side of the story. Think about how you or your team may have contributed to the issue (like a bug your team been working on but it still isn’t fixed)? How might the customer be perceiving the situation?
Moral being, check your attitude at the door and remember that in customer support your job is to help resolve problems. That’s not to say the customer is always right, but remember, they’re human too and when you act on an impulse or with a negative attitude it reflects on the direction of the conversation. So, for the sake of avoiding hostile situations, take a couple deep breaths and get ready to listen to their side of the story.
Practice Active Listening
Active listening is a soft skill must have as a support team member. It sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how often the listening element is missing in customer conversations.
Listening is especially critical because more often than not, you only get a snippet of a customer’s issue when they contact you before you actually speak to them. So, you really don’t know the whole story.
That being said, before you start problem solving let whoever you’re speaking to air it all out. Your job in that moment is to say nothing but learn as much as possible about what’s going on from their point of view.
Active Listening Techniques
It’s been said we only remember between 25 and 50 percent of what we hear which is why active listening is a great practice to enforce. Some examples of active listening techniques are:
- Actually pay attention (duh!). While you’re letting them share their problems, look at them directly if you’re in person, avoid preparing a response ahead of time. Let them know they have your undivided attention.
- Be body language conscious. A simple nod or smile and eye contact (not the overly creepy kind) can make all the difference. It’s obvious when people aren’t paying attention.
Once you’ve listened to what they have to say active listening can look like:
- Acknowledge, paraphrase, and empathize. Aside from non-verbal cues like body language, let them know you were paying attention by repeating parts of the conversation back to them. IE: “I totally understand that you’re upset your package got lost. I would no doubt feel the same. Here’s what I can do you…”
- Say you’re sorry! This is not a time for pride to get in the way. If you and your team are at fault, over promised and under delivered or just made a simple mistake. Own up to it! It may not undo the situation but it can certainly build trust and rapport as well as ease the tension.
- Ask questions. If you’re not sure what they mean by something or are unclear what exactly they need from you, ask! Don’t guess. Let them know you truly want to help but need more information before you can do so properly. Best case scenario, your willingness to hear them out and eagerness to help in the best way possible will slowly start moving them out of that dissatisfied state.
Resolve And Follow Up
A perfect example of how to resolve an issue the right way using the outlined techniques can be found in this detailed post by GrooveHQ.
Here’s a quick summary:
An angry customer reached out via Twitter with a semi-condescending comment about Proposify’s (the business the story is centered around) product. Regardless of the customer’s tone, the Proposify crew immediately responded. They asked if they’d like to speak with support, which they did. Once they moved the situation to email, the proposifty team was able to hear out the customer. They get their side of the story and ask clarifying questions about how they could better solve the problem.
In the end, Kyle, the founder of Proposify not only listened, responded appropriately, and gave a genuine apology. He also included a free month of service for their troubles which was the cherry on top. An above and beyond move that’s not always required, but I don’t think it would have had the same effect if he had simply just offered free product without caring about the actual issue.
Following up should also be on your list of to-dos after resolving an issue. Whether it be a couple days or weeks after (depending on the situation) this is a fantastic way to boost customer retention. Reach out to see how things are working for them. If there issue is solved and if you can be of any more service. Another small touch that goes a long way.
We’re Only Human
Delivering great customer service and solving customer issues isn’t about being a perfect company and never dealing with drama. That’s pretty much an impossible standard to set.
A much simpler road to take is to be prepared for these kinds of situations and implementing these helpful communication skills into you and your team’s support repertoire. Then learning from the situations and improving as you go.