Tag Archives: customer service

Learn How to Handle Irate Customers

By John TschohlJohn Tschohl

Irate customers. No matter how good you are at what you do, what business you are in, or where it is located, you will at some point find yourself facing an irate customer. Maybe a product was flawed, a delivery was late, or a charge was inaccurate. How you deal with that customer not only will determine how he or she feels about your organization, but how you feel about yourself.

When you are able to turn an irate customer into a satisfied customer, you will gain confidence in your ability to diffuse a volatile situation and to evoke a positive outcome. You also will gain the respect of your coworkers, and you will get the attention of your supervisors. And, who knows, you might even get promoted.

When most people come in contact with an irate customer, their first instinct is to turn and run. Dealing with a customer who has a problem and is upset about it, can be more than a little daunting. With the proper perspective, however, you will see that the customer’s complain is actually an opportunity for you and your organization to put your best foot forward.

Customers who have complaints are a blessing in disguise. They are letting you know where you and your organization have flaws—and providing you with the opportunity to correct them. When you do, you will realize increased customer loyalty, revenues, and profits. It’s a win/win situation.

You should be more concerned with the customers who don’t complain than with those who do. In a recent study of retail banks in the United Kingdom, conduct by J.D. Power and Associates, results showed that 25 percent of customers who have experienced a problem in the past 12 months say they definitely or probably will switch institutions in the next year. And 55 percent of customers who have had a problem or complaint were disappointed with the resolution process.

That study also found that, while incentives are important in attracting new customers, customer service is key to retaining those customers. Almost 40 percent of customers left their banks because of a poor service experience, and an additional 43 percent cited poor service as a top reason for intending to leave their banks.

Customer service is key to success of any business. And dealing with irate customers and solving their problems is a critical element of that service. When dealing with an irate customer, take these steps: 

  • Listen carefully and with interest to what the customer is telling you.

  • Apologize without laying blame, regardless of who is at fault.

  • Put yourself in the customer’s place, and respond in a way that shows you care about his or her concerns. Use phrases such as, “I understand that must be upsetting,” or “I don’t blame you for being upset; I would feel the same way.”

  • Ask pertinent questions in a caring, concerned manner, and actively listen to the answers.

  • Suggest one or more alternatives that would address the customer’s concerns.

  • Solve the problem quickly and efficiently, or find someone who can.

  • Using these steps will quickly calm most unhappy or angry customers and allow you to address and solve their problems. Patience and tact are key.

It’s important that, even if a customer is making outrageous statements and, in essence, throwing a fit, that you remain calm. Do not take those statements personally. Apologize, take the blame, and empathize with the customer, then solve the problem.

Just as important as what you should do, there are these things you should not do:

  • Don’t directly challenge someone who has a complaint and is angry. Even if that customer is wrong,    don’t attempt to prove it. Your goal is to solve the problem, not to enter into a debate on the merits of the complaint.

  • Don’t let the conversation wander or get off the topic. Solve the crisis at hand without looking for, and   finding, additional problems.

  • Don’t participate in fault finding. Shifting blame doesn’t help anyone.

  • Don’t let your personal feelings get in the way. Stay cool and use courtesy and tact to diffuse the situation.

When you successfully handle irate customers and their complaints, you will be rewarded with a satisfied customer—and a customer who will be loyal to you and your organization. That loyalty will have a positive impact on your organization’s bottom line—and make you look like a hero.

John Tschohl, internationally recognized service strategist, is founder and president of the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Described by USA Today, Time, and Entrepreneur as a “customer service guru,” he has written several books on customer service and has developed more than 26 customer-service training programs that have been distributed throughout the world. John’s monthly strategic newsletter is available online.

The Trials and Triumphs of Telephone Support

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about customer service via the telephone, even more so than usual. There are some things that I am excited about, while others are a concern.

On the negative side, consider a large telecommunications company that provides cell phone, Internet, and long distance. Another is a large national banking institution. You know them both. They are notorious for their consistently abysmal record of poor customer service. If I were to name names, there’s a good chance that either you or someone you know has had a bad experience with them. Actually, saying “bad” would be kind. Uncaring, unconscionable, and unethical come to mind.

With these companies, it seems that once a problem occurs, there is a strong likelihood that it will never be resolved. This is not an overstatement. People have only so much patience, and then they give up. Excessive runaround, hours spent on hold, and limited energy to pursue a satisfactory resolution eventually overwhelm frustrated customers. Either they decide to accept the problem or they switch providers.

Although some of these companies’ frontline staff truly do care and try their best, others do not. Regardless, there seems to be cumbersome bureaucracy thwarting every move and complex support systems that make no allowances for nonroutine problems.

There is a real opportunity awaiting these two companies – and others like them – if they can just provide effective telephone support. With best-in-class phone support, I envision their cancelation rates dramatically decreasing, customer satisfaction levels skyrocketing, and a whole lot less negative press.

Maybe these companies are simply too big or offer too many services to be effective. Perhaps their help desks are mismanaged or bogged down by bureaucracy. But I suspect the underlying reason is that upper management treats support as an expense item that needs to be minimized. The reality is that providing good customer service is good business – but one that requires an investment to fully realize.

I recently experienced the trials and triumphs of phone support after my house took a minor lightning hit, affecting our phone, Internet, and TV service. I called my satellite provider and spoke with a woman named Beth in the Oklahoma call center. The first time I encountered a call center agent telling me her location, I thought it was a bit hokey and an overreaction to the backlash against offshore call centers. But it actually helped me establish a personal connection with her. In the same way, I was positively predisposed towards Beth from Oklahoma. While waiting for various diagnostics to run, we had time to chat about call center stuff, which I greatly enjoyed. A service call was soon scheduled for the next day, when the problem was quickly fixed and service restored.

However, 2 weeks out and I’m still waiting for my phone and Internet service to be repaired. Multiple phones calls, missed commitments, wrong instructions, and conflicting information: that’s no way to run a business.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

The Saga of a Telemarketing Failure

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Last year my local phone company changed. There was much to-do surrounding this news, arriving in the form of frequent mailed communications and email messages and spanning several months. Throughout this, the phone company repeatedly promised that there would be no rate increases — all that would change was their name. I’m still not sure if this was the result of new ownership or merely a rebranding effort. Of course, these missives also made hazy hints of new services, but withheld helpful details.

My first indication that something was amiss came with my first bill. Contrary to their repeated promises, their charges went up, almost doubling. When I called to complain, evoking their pledge, I was informed that my past bills had been incorrect. Therefore, they were not bound by their aforementioned assurances and were actually under legal compulsion to correct the errors. Fortunately, it would not be adjusted retroactively.

This should have been sufficient warning to be wary of what they said, but I was bit slow to master that lesson. When they called me a few months later — a new marketing tactic — to “lower my monthly rate,” I was quite excited. With this new plan, I could recover much of what I had lost when they had previously “corrected” my bill. The rep’s mastery of English was questionable, so at each step I repeated back to her everything I understood her to say.

“You are going to lower my monthly base rate for local service to $17.95,” I concluded.

“Yes!” she confirmed and then transferred me for third party verification.

Giddy with excitement, I listened to a recapitulation of my order. “You’re signing up for our unlimited long distance calling package at $17.95 a month; this requires…”

“No,” I quickly interrupted. “That’s not what I want at all.” Fortunately, the verification rep’s communication was clear and effective, saving me from something that I did not want.

So began an all-too-frequent barrage of solicitation calls from my “new” local phone company. Realizing that I could not rely on what they told me, I would extricate myself from each intrusion as quickly as possible and return to work. When my irritation over their incessant interruptions became intolerable, I began begging them to stop calling me. This proved unsuccessful, so I resorted to hanging up as soon as I heard mention of their name. That hasn’t stopped the calls, but it has provided a small degree of vindication.

When their most recent incursion breached my normally idyllic workspace, I listened to their spiel with a more critical ear. To recap: they called a business line about residential service, they did not know my name, and they did not have access to what services they were providing me. At that point, I wondered if the call was even from my phone company. Was it a scam?

When telemarketing is so poorly executed that it is indistinguishable from a scam, things have gone terribly awry. Intervention is clearly in order.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

Book Review: The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Promoted as “a customer service fable,” The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey is ambitiously subtitled: How to Be Happy and Successful at Work and in Life by Simply Changing Your Mind. Let me confirm that I believe it lives up to its grandiose intention.

The inside back cover notes that author “Barbara Burke is an internationally known consultant, speaker, and author who specializes in the ‘people side’ of customer service management.” The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey is all about customer service, in this case, specifically customer service in a call center. However, its lessons can be readily applied to all customer service situations, as well as to life in general.

Reminiscent of the classic The One Minute Manager, this fable follows the vocational pursuits of Olivia, a harried customer service representative – that is, a call center agent – working for the local utility. Starting her position with much excitement and expectation, it isn’t long before the crush of complaint calls and barbs from angry customers brings her to her breaking point.

It is then when wise Isabel, an insightful veteran of the team, comes to Olivia’s rescue. With one simple piece of advice, Isabel changes Olivia’s job outlook and career trajectory. This, however, is not the only interaction between mentor and mentee, but the first of many such exchanges. Along the way, Olivia records twenty-two “aha!” moments, which have broad applications for call center work, customer service efforts, and life itself.

In case you’re wondering how a napkin, a melon, and a monkey fit into this, let me assure you that they do, serving as apt metaphors for three key points and reoccurring themes in the book. But don’t take my word for it – read The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey yourself… and then share it with your coworkers. It just might make all the difference.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

Your Call Center on Autopilot

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I remember calling Visa with a query about my statement. The knowledgeable rep professionally answered my question. After an effective and otherwise satisfying call, he concluded by saying, “Thank you for calling American Express.”

I was taken aback, but opted to say nothing. Either he was oblivious to what he uttered or mortified that he had stated the wrong company. In either case, his mouth was on autopilot and his mind was disengaged. Seeking to avoid causing him embarrassment, I politely responded, “You’re welcome,” and ended the call.

In contemplating this, I wondered if he recently changed jobs, moving from American Express to Visa. More likely was that he worked for a credit card outsource call center, which handled calls for both Visa and American Express. (An alternate explanation is that he was merely bored, seeing how people responded to his miscommunication — stranger things have happened.)

Call center work involves a great deal of repetition, which often occurs in quick succession. It is no wonder that agents easily switch on their autopilot and mindlessly cruise through their day. Even the best of agents can occasionally succumb to this phenomenon, with uncaring reps subsisting in that mode. As such, we can expect a certain percentage of call center communication to subconsciously uttered. Is it any wonder that mistakes occur?

Matters are made worse when a metrics-motivated manager pushes agents to answer quicker, conclude calls faster, and process more transactions per hour. The result can be agents who are mentally on the next call before the current one is finished.

I’ve seen another amusing autopilot occurrence happen at the conclusion of a call. It’s when agents inquire, “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” Often this is an appropriate query, ensuring that all the caller’s reasons for contact have been fully addressed. Sometimes, however, it is nonsensical or even infuriating.

One such unwarranted situation is when terminating a service. I call to cancel my account. I tell the agent that I am not happy with their product, that it didn’t meet my expectations, and that nothing can be done to mitigate the situation. I am trying to be polite, but I know that I am terse. After an apology and some subsequent typing, the agent announces that my account has been cancelled — then cheerfully asks, “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

What else might there be? I don’t think I’ll open an account — I just closed one. I certainly won’t place an order; I’m not happy with the service and I am no longer a customer. There are no pending issues. So what might else might they help me with? Nothing — so why ask?

Another scenario occurs when calling with a question. After vainly trying to help, the rep apologizes for their failure, and then asks, “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” I want to scream, “You couldn’t help me with my first question, so how could there be anything else?”

The only thing that is accomplished by asking that question in the wrong situation is to waste my time and theirs. At this point some call center managers may be countering, “Our agents aren’t on autopilot; it’s our policy to say that on every call.”

To which I ask, “Why?”

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.