Years ago, I was in Prince Edward Island facilitating a customer service workshop. When we started discussing the question “What are some things that make your customers angry?” one of the participants said “Snowstorms and I have no idea what to do when someone yells at me because the roads and airports are closed and they can’t get off the island.”
There are times when our customers are angry and upset because we messed up. And then there are the times our customers are angry and upset because of something we have absolutely no control over, like the weather. When it comes to knowing how to manage those moments, start by taking a moment to list as many causes for customer frustration as you can think of. Next identify which of the four following categories they fall under:
Unrealistic expectations: Sometimes our customers come to us believing we provide a product or service that we don’t. Now ask yourself, “Why don’t we offer this product or service? Is this something we can do?” If the answer is yes, make it happen. If the answer is no (and sometimes it is), who does offer this product or service? Then be prepared to send your customer there.
Policies and procedures: I had a friend walk into a restaurant about 11:00 am. He ordered the Denver omelet. The server said “We don’t serve breakfast after 10:00.” So my friend flipped to the sandwich section and ordered a Denver sandwich. No problem with that order!
Take a good, long look at your policies and procedures. Who are they designed to protect … you or the customer? Do they make sense to the customer? Chances are they might not, for the simply reason your customer doesn’t understand all the ins and outs of running your business. So have some fun or be prepared to offer an alternative. I imagine my friend would have shared the above story from a whole different perspective if the server had said something like “We don’t serve from our breakfast menu after 10:00 am, so how about I ask the cook to make you a Denver sandwich, with the bread on the side?”
Human error: This list could get long. Focus on the errors that happen most often or have the most significant impact on the overall customer experience. Ask yourself “Why are they happening and what can we do to prevent it.” Then take action.
External factors: There are some external factors that come at you out of the blue. Your customer may have had a fight before leaving home for the day or had terrible, horrible, very bad day at work or just received some difficult news. There are some external factors you can pretty much count on. Plan for those. For example, if you run a business in PEI, chances are pretty good that at some point in any given year, bad weather will hit, roads and airports will be closed and customers will be stranded. Work with your team to recognize the frustration and teach them how to respond with empathy. What can you do to help them pass the time? Perhaps some games or a quiet room for them to read or get caught up on other work. Who will keep them up-to-date on travel updates?
When you and your team view complaints positively, instead of looking at them as a negative, they provide clues on how to improve the service you and your company provide. Changing the focus from a negative to a positive helps you be in the right mind set to successfully manage those moments when they arise.
(Excerpt from “Customer Service from the Inside Out”)