An angry customer – an opportunity to score

The customer service department is filled with sadistic misogynists who indulge in their every fantasy: that’s what you’d think if you’d analyse the attitude of many customers calling in. Whoever believes that we learn abusive language in high school, should listen in for a day at a random customer service department. Angry customers tend to forget that there is a human being at the receiving end of the phone call.

In this respect, it takes sheer courage to proclaim to our service reps that they ought to ‘serve with a smile’. This kind of angry-customer situations bring out our feral instincts, the ‘fight or flight response’. We defend our position tooth hand nail or we hang up, tail between the legs. When dealing with an angry customer, it is almost impossible not to take things personally.

Most customer service departments will therefore fail to suprise the customer with a professional service. That is precisely the reason why we could make all the difference at that moment.

But could they ever? The answer is yes, beyond any doubt! Even –and perhaps especially- in the worst case scenario, true customer service can shine. But it requires knowledge, training and particulary: devotion. We must learn to surpress our instincts and even go against them. Telling our service reps how , won’t cut it. We have to intensively coach and guide them in this new way of working and thinking. We must teach them to look at complaints differently: as a chance to score bonus points.

Because there is one crucial insight that we should completely adhere to: a complaint always consists of two parts. One part is the mere facts of the matter, while the other is how those facts are perceived. Mostly, we attribute huge amounts of attention to the first part, while casually ignoring the second. Our experience teaches us that we should probably do the exact opposite. Surely a good solution will always be important, but the degree to which the customer feels acknowledged is so much more important! If, and only if, we have given our customer that feeling, can we start contemplating a solution.

Let’s compare following scenario’s:

Customer: At last! I’ve been trying to reach you for the last 20 minutes, with only Mozart’s damned ‘Für Elise’ on repeat to make my waiting even more unbearable. (Seriously, who ever thought this could be soothing when played through your telephone speaker!?) Internet has been out all morning, while I have some urgent and important emails to send!

Scenario 1:
Service rep: So there’s a problem with your connection. Could you unplug the router for a minute while I perform a line check?

Scenario 2:
Service rep: You have been waiting for 20 minutes?! If it’d been me, I’d be seriously ticked off! I’m truly sorry for keeping you waiting that long. I’m going to do everything I can to fix your problem as soon as I can. Could you please tell me what you’ve already tried to get it working again?

We start with acknowledging that the customer is frustrated. Moreover we don’t try to ignore or minimize his or her anger. If anything, we confirm that it is perfectly normal for people to get mad when things go wrong. We encourage him to get it all out before we start thinking –and talking- about solutions.

An angry customer will never be an easy customer, we can’t deny that. But if service reps start seeing angy customers as an opportunity to score bonus points, as an opportunity to suprise and to make customer centricity tangible, that is when our organization can truly make a difference!

Tom Van Thillo

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