Watch Out for Customers!

  • Breaking News: Customer tries to get freebie AGAIN!vintage newsboy
  • This just in: Reports say number of cranky customers on the rise.
  • Business Bulletin: Customers are clueless.
  • In the News:  Customers the highest cause of stress in service professionals.

As humans, we tend to focus on the ‘bad stuff and forget about the good stuff or the normal stuff.  When an anomaly happens, it makes the headlines. Big, bold letters and dramatic language sell papers, encourage clicks and create huddles around water coolers.  Just think of all the headlines and intense media coverage last month regarding the safety of air travel.  The loss of life is tragic.  I cannot begin to imagine the depths of pain and suffering felt around the globe because of that. Too often though, that’s where we get stuck. We forget about the millions of people who got on a plane and arrived safely at their final destination.

I see this same perspective in the service industry.  Sharing stories about unreasonable, cranky customers is common.  Some people go on and on about the cranky, rude, or “out to get a freebie” customer. After a while, they start to perceive all customers as cranky, rude and out-to-get something.  Their attitude towards customers tends to bring on more stress than the actual customer.

Yes some customers will lie to get freebies from you. Some are crankier than others.  As for clueless – the customer isn’t the expert. They’re not supposed to be, so don’t expect them to be.

Here’s an idea.  Instead of sharing stories about the “bad’ customers, share stories about the good to great ones. Count how many good to great customers you serve in a day instead of how many ‘bad’ customers.  Focus on the many positive customer interactions, instead of on the small percentage of cranky, rude and out-to-get something people.  You’ll be happier, and when you’re happier, your customers are happier.

Do this on a regular basis and in no time, you’ll be watching for the customer instead of watching out for the customer.


4 Phrases NOT to Use With an Unhappy Customer

Some words and phrases have the potential to move a situation from bad to horrendous.  When you have a disappointed, frustrated or upset customer on the phone or in front of you, four phrases you definitely want to avoid are:

  1. ” As I told you…”  Use this one and your customer may respond with “So, what you’re saying is I’m an idiot?” Even if he doesn’t say the words out loud, you can be sure he’s thinking it.  The customer heard you just fine. He just doesn’t like what he heard.  It may have been the option or the way the option was presented.
  2. “You need to calm down.” Telling someone who is upset or angry to calm down is like throwing gas on a fire.  Instead of telling someone to calm down, give them some time to vent and then say something like “I’m sorry you’re frustrated (or upset or angry or disappointed). I’d like to help.
  3. “I don’t understand you.”  This sounds rude and refers to the person instead of the message.  Saying “I’m not quite sure I understand” is better. Even better is to simply start asking clarifying or probing questions to get the detail or information you need in order to understand.
  4. “You’re going to have to…”  If you’re prepared to hear “I don’t HAVE to do anything” back, go ahead and use this one.  No.  Actually just avoid it altogether.  A disappointed, upset or irate customer does not want to hear what they have to do.  They want to know what you’re going to do.  Saying something like “I need …” is much more effective.

What are some phrases you’ve heard (or perhaps used) that escalated a situation, instead of diffusing it?


Getting Down on the Floor with your Customer

My son was hospitalized when he was 12 years old.  He had a dangerous infection that required two emergency surgeries to drain the build-up in an attempt to keep the infection from getting into his bone.

I will never forget the heartbreaking moan of pain he made when the orderlies were moving him from the gurney onto his bed after his second surgery.  It was a sound no mother should ever have to hear.  I broke down.  I slid down the wall, onto the floor, unable to stand, my arms wrapped around my legs, tears streaming down my face.

I will also never forget the kindness and compassion demonstrated by one of the nurses. She got down on the floor with me. She put her arm around me shoulder and she comforted me.

She did not have to do that. That was outside of her scope of duties and yet, she did.  Her compassion and her kindness moved her beyond friendly, efficiency to an outstanding example of what service is truly about.

The majority of service professionals don’t deal with fear, anger and confusion at the same heightened levels as medical professionals do.  But in any business, customers arrive with certain expectations and emotion is always attached to expectation. When an expectation, a want, a desire is not met, disappointment is felt. Some policies leave us confused, scratching our heads, wondering who in the world thought that one up.

Our customers are emotional creatures and the best service providers are those who have the ability to recognize and connect to the emotion.  They may not be able to fix the problem; they may not have a magic wand to make everything okay, but service professionals who are willing to get outside of their own world and step into their customer’s world, create experiences that are never forgotten.

Perhaps, in addition to asking candidates to describe a time when they had to handle a customer complaint, we should also ask them why they thought the customer was unhappy or angry or disappointed.  That answer would provide some insight into how they view others.  Are they judgmental?  Are they able to see past the obvious “he had to wait too long”?

Good customer service providers are friendly, they are efficient and they are knowledgeable.  They know how and what to say. There is very little they do wrong.  Great customer service providers take it one step further. They see themselves and their business from the customer’s shoes.  They are willing to get down on the floor with their customer.

I don’t think that can be taught.  What do you think?

The Difference Between Lording and Leading

In spite of the countless leadership books, blogs and articles available, there are still an amazingly high number of bad leaders out there, wreaking havoc in the lives of the people they come into contact with.

Some leaders believe their title and the power they wield bestows on them the privileges of lordship or ladyship in their kingdom.  These leaders equate fearful compliance with a united front.  Dissenting opinions are regarded as insurrection and betrayal.

People who lord instead of lead:

  1. Talk badly, and loudly, about people behind their back.
  2. Rely on threats and intimidation to keep people in line.
  3. Surround themselves with people who think the same way they do.
  4. If they can’t find those people, they find people who are more concerned about staying in their good favour than doing what is right.
  5. Blame their serfs for failures and accept accolades for successes.

Leaders on the other hand:

  1. Deal with issues head on.
  2. Rely on kindness and respect to build relationships.
  3. Encourage dissenting opinions.
  4. Look for people who are strong in areas they are weak.
  5. Accept responsibility for failure and share accolades for success.
Some people lord, instead of lead, due to arrogance.  Some lord, instead of lead, to hide insecurity. Whatever the reason, lording is not an effective leadership strategy. Employee engagement suffers, customer service suffers, reputation suffers …. lead, don’t lord.
What do you think? Are there other examples you can share?  I’d love to hear them.

How to Respond to Customer Complaints

When faced with an unhappy or angry customer, your response to that situation has the potential to defuse it or make it worse.

If handled incorrectly, a disappointed customer may turn into an angry customer.  If handled incorrectly, a disappointed customer may decide you don’t care about them and resolve never to come back to your business.  Even worse, that customer may decide to tell their family, their friends and their colleagues to NEVER do business with you either.  They may log into Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to spread the message, which means even more people will get a negative impression about your business.

Whenever possible, try to resolve the situation BEFORE the customer walks out the door. That means listening and watching for clues of customer dissatisfaction.  A lot of customers will tell you everything is fine even when it’s not. Some may believe it’s not worth their time to lodge a complaint or perhaps they don’t believe anything will be done anyway. It’s up to you and your service team to find out about any issues or service concerns and address them quickly. The LEAPT strategy may help

Listen:  It’s not easy to listen to a customer complaint. Some customers are rude, some can’t seem to get to the point, and very often you have other things you need to deal with.  Put all of that aside and truly listen to what the customer is telling you.  Give them some time to get their anger and frustration out. Watch your emotions. Focus on the specifics of their complaint, not their personality or their delivery method.  Ask questions, nod, take notes.

Empathize:  Be sure your customer feels confident that you are understanding their concern. Ask yourself “How would I feel if this happened to me?” Don’t think about how you would act if it did happen to you, as that quickly leads to judging actions rather than focusing on the problem and the solution.

Apologize:  If you or someone on your team messed up, apologize.  If you had no control over the situation, apologize anyway.  An apology is not always an admission of guilt.  It is genuine regret that your customer’s expectations were not met.

Partner:  This step means working with the customer to come up with the remedy together.  Some people wait to deal with any issue until they have all the facts and potential solutions in place before interacting with the customer. Big mistake!  You’re just giving them time to get angrier and angrier. Very often, if listen, empathize and apologize were taken care of immediately and with sincerity, the resolution has already been found.  What most customers want is to be listened to, to have their disappointment acknowledged and to receive an apology.  Yes, some will want discounts, coupons, a free meal or a free stay and that’s ok.  A free meal, a coupon or a free stay costs your business a lot less than negative messaging.

Thank:  Thank the customer for sharing their disappointment with you. Instead of just leaving, they gave you an opportunity to fix it.  Instead of telling their family, friends and colleagues about their negative experience, they told you. Their complaint gave you the chance to make things right for this customer and perhaps other customers as well.

We need to know when a customer is unhappy and we need to take steps to address the problem immediately.  Customers are our bread and butter. They give us a reason to get up every day and go to work. Without customers, there is no work.

What are some things you do when a customer voices a complaint?