How well do you handle your interactions with customer support?
Yesterday, an AT&T rep of all people put me in my place. I was completely out of line when I said she was not doing anything to help me. She was. I was also wrong when I told her it’s nearly impossible to isolate an intermittent problem. She had a process for it if only I listened long enough. Funny enough, her spunkiness instantly turned things around for me.
I moved from a place of utter frustration and defensiveness to a place of compassion, patience and collaboration.
What right did I have to get frustrated with her when she had only known my problem for all of 3 minutes and was doing everything to help me? How far had I come from the days where I sat in her exact shoes and hoped against hope that my customers would be more understanding and less accusing? How easy it is to forget that the person on the other end of the line (or email) is not the person at fault for your particular issue, that they are not out to get you, and that they do not necessarily endorse the policies and systems of the face-less companies for which they work? They simply have a job and like most of us, they aim to do a good job.
If anyone should know this, it’s me. I was on the other side for a long time, being attacked by angry customers in a thankless, stress-inducing, anxiety-ridden job (yep, customer support, baby!) for an insanely difficult line of products. These products were used by other large corporations so my customers were not the everyday end-users like you and me. They were the big boys like a giant bank, an entire institution, or the largest restaurant chain in the Midwest and when these products malfunctioned, our customers lost money, clientele, reputation or all of the above until we resolved the issues.
I forgot most of the technical jargon, the thousand hours of training, and proficiency with which I handled these products. I see now that those things matter very little anyway in hindsight. What I do remember are the undeniable facts which came to light every day during those unhappy years and 80-hour work weeks. It is a wonder that I need to remind myself about what I lived and breathed for over five years but human nature has a way of going back to old habits. Here’s a refresher on facts from my customer support “manual”:
~ Customer support is a thankless, stressful, and extremely difficult job.
~ Customers want to blame someone. If you represent the company, they blame you.
~ Customers never call when they are happy. They only call when something is broken. Do not forget their place of frustration.
~ Most – not all – customers want to vent and to receive compassion before a solution. Sometimes, they only want to vent.
~ Customers want to feel valued and cared for. Above all, show compassion, politeness, and willingness to help them.
~ Customers, contrary to popular belief, are often very wrong and quite misguided. Never ever make this apparent to them.
Life places us in both circumstances for good reason. This job was eons ago and today, I am often the customer, just like you. I am the one using a product or a service and looking for help when things go awry. And I am hard-core; I am the last person to accept defeat in any situation. My Dad’s words always ring in my ears, “there is a solution for every problem.” and if at first that solution is not transparent, then keep trying.
Persistence and determination to arrive at a solution are only winning approaches if combined with the right attitude and mindset.
Do you have the best attitude and mindset when you call customer support in the midst of your frustration and anger?
Between the many times where I sadly failed to show the right attitude to the fulfilling times where I did it in abundance, I am committing to the latter approach in the future. These 9 secrets have created winning customer support experience for me. May they help you experience the same:
- Take a Deep Breath: Always take a deep breath first before you explain your problem. Put them on mute or do it on hold. Take in 3 counts, hold it for 5 counts, release it in 3 counts. Repeat as necessary during the call. Seriously, do this and watch the difference.
- Do a Proper Introduction: They may have all your account information but a proper human introduction affirms your loyalty. Mention you are a paying, premium customer and have been with them for so long and have been very happy. It is important that they know you have been pleased with them overall.
- Explain The Problem: Explain your specific problem clearly, in a logical sequence and slowly. Give as much factual detail as possible and leave out guesses and generalities. The rep’s clear understanding of your problem is the single most important part of your communication. Remember to be useful in your explanation.
- Show Appropriate Emotion: This is nearly impossible, I know, but where I have pulled it off, it has been super effective – and compassion has flown from customer support with a few perks and “Oh let me see what else I can do…” remarks.
- Learn The Rep’s Position: Depending on your problem, this customer service rep may or may not be have the power and authority to help you. Assess this fast especially in a time-sensitive problem. Ask for their position, whether they can help you and if not, ask who can help you? The wisest thing to do is make friends with your rep.
- Escalate to Higher Help: When the current rep clearly cannot resolve the issue, escalate to higher levels of support. Try to learn the structure of support. You may need to explain the issues again; do them patiently. Learn how to negotiate powerfully because it is in essence what you are doing in most support calls. Imagine you are both on the same side of the table, looking out at the problem together.
- Show Assertiveness for a Solution: While doing all the above, do not let them give you the run-around. Be assertive – not aggressive – about getting to a solution together. Understand their positions but also stay firm in yours. However, know when to cut them some slack. Sometimes, the problem may take longer to resolve, they may need to do more troubleshooting and you may have to cooperate. Understand the situation clearly and appeal to their sense of decency and logic while staying assertive and firm.
- Understand Next Steps: Know the steps involved if the problem is not immediately resolved. Maybe you need to report back more issues; maybe you need to provide more information or they need to check on something else. Recap all the agreed-upon next steps at the end of the call. Always document for yourself with the name, date, contact information, support case number and the name(s) of those who helped you.
- Always Thank Profusely: Your manners do not need to disappear because you have a problem. Thank them often and profusely, thank them for trying to help you, for sharing information, for focusing on your problem and anything else. Always, always end on a good strong note with sincere gratitude.
Tell us your thoughts: Have you any secrets to spill on managing our customer support calls more brilliantly? What stories or winning tips do you have to share on handling those frustrating yet necessary phone calls to customer service?