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Tough Conversations (1/5): Turn Around Problems for Your Customers

Posted by David Thiemecke on 10/21/16 11:38 AM

How can I help a disgruntled customer?

When I started running customer service almost ten years ago, upset customers scared me. By the time the customer called me, he or she had already exhausted any patience with my office manager or field service manager and my hands-on team below. Not only would the customer surprise me with their original problem, somehow my team had let them down too. It felt like a car accident at the end of my driveway when I was just leaving for a vacation flight. Escalating the problem from my technician up the chain to customer service and then me stretched their trust in the rest of my staff. It took time, making their issue late too. How had this happened? Where did reason go? What about all of the policies I put in place? How could I have prevented this?



Just stop.

 





What does a disgruntled customer want?

In my experience, they’re looking for understanding, an advocate to partner up, a way to make their family whole, to save time, to save their investment, to vent, and sometimes just guidance to solve the problem. By the time this problem lands on the my desk, my firm has already failed the customer in some way. When times get tough, you prove your value as a partner. It’s the relationship that matters. Every problem becomes an opportunity to improve and earn your customer’s trust. It’s an honor to serve your customers, even when your firm has failed them. They could have already gone someplace else. Take it to heart – if you don’t learn to address both the customer’s original problem, and the way that your firm failed to resolve it, it will follow you to every job! So now is a good time to get better.

 

How do I get everyone to calm down?

When I started, two mentors shared advice with me. The first gave me a sheet with an acronym, LEAP, as in Listen, Empathize, Ask, and Produce. By listen I mean to be quiet, take notes, and let the customer tell you everything that’s on their mind. Don’t prejudge, don’t respond, and wait until the customer has finished. Then empathize, reflecting back how, given that evidence, you would feel that way too. Ask questions, to both clarify and check-down. Then produce, telling the customer how you’ll handle it and following through. Sounds simple, right? I found I could even remember this list when the customer jarred me. But it didn’t solve all of my customer’s problems.

 

The limits of LEAP

I found LEAP worked great at calming down the customer and returning to a reasonable tone within a call. It got the customer off the phone feeling like "something" will be done. But that vagueness just sets you up to miss expectations again. Produce was the tricky part. What if I discovered something after the call that changed my perception of the issue? What if I or another team mate failed to do exactly what I’d promised on the phone? What if it took me more time to understand the issue? LEAP leaves the resolution to one step, failing to guide customer service. As customer service, do I deviate from our terms and conditions? Is this worth going above and beyond? What if there’s something I didn’t think of on the phone? How do I protect my customer and my job at the same time? What’s fair? Who’s right?

 

Exhale and relax. There’s more to share in my next post on expanding the "P" in LEAP.




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