As a customer service representative, your job is to connect with customers when they call, text, email, tweet at, come into your store, or otherwise connect with your organisation. As an extension of a company, contact center reps and in-store associates have a responsibility to treat customers with respect and decency – even as customers may be rude and disrespectful.
This can be challenging, especially when an angry customer’s complaints, problems, or mishaps seem unreasonable or unfixable. But you can’t let that show. You’ve got to stay on your “A game” at all times. That means maintaining your professionalism while remaining calm, kind, and understanding.
It also means not doing certain things. Here are seven ways you can lose (or at least create a really bad experience) for customers.
Make excuses or cop out
Such as: saying “I can try, but…”
Why you’d say it: Sometimes there are things you simply can't or don’t think you can do. Sharing this with the customer might seem like the sympathetic play.
What it says to a customer: Don’t count on getting this thing resolved.
No but’s. You want customers to have confidence in your willingness and ability to help. With the myriad of potential problems customers could call in with, it’s perfectly normal not to have all the answers ready at the drop of a hat.
However, leading with “I can try but...I’m not sure if it’ll work,” or “I can try but…I’ve never done this before,” or “I can try but…I don’t think this is a very good idea” gets you nowhere. Instead say: “Let me…” And keep in mind, how you say it means as much as what you say. Have an uplifting tone, and remain genuine in your interaction.
Forget that the customer’s perception is reality
Such as: Approaching a password reset request or account inquiry as undeserving of your time
Why you’d do it: You have a lot to worry about. With so many different tasks, systems, and protocols, showing empathy for the customer can sometimes feel secondary to operational priorities.
What it says to a customer: You’re not the most important thing right now. You didn’t need to contact me to solve this problem.
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Even if you’ve reset customers’ passwords 20 times this week, remember that each customer who contacts you needing a password reset is likely doing so for the first time.
Any attempt – even unintentionally – to diminish the importance of a customer’s pressing issue by negating it, ignoring it, or reducing it as no problem at all won’t bode well.
Be cautious in allowing yourself to create preconceptions, judgments, or assumptions. Keep your composure; address each interaction as if it’s the only one the customer will ever have with your brand.
Remember, if a customer has attempted to reach out to your customer service department, they’re unable to fix the issue on their own, and are asking for your help. They depend on you. So meet each customer with a true openness and acceptance.
Inadvertently anger customers
Such as: Asking the customer to “try to relax…”
Why you’d say it: In an effort to defuse a tense situation, asking others to simply “relax” can actually seem like a very natural, human, even empathetic comment.
What it says to a customer: You don’t have a right to be upset, and you’re not justified in your frustration. Despite your issue, please do not express your anger with me.
Dealing with upset customers can feel like navigating a pothole-laden road in the middle of a stormy night. The frustration mounts, you feel like yelling, yet you’ve got to stay focused. But be wary when trying to calm customers. The phrase “just relax” shouldn’t be said to a customer (unless you’re selling sofas, recliners, beds, or maybe travel insurance).
Instead, the best way to deal with angry customers is to stay calm yourself, and focus on solving the problem rather than getting swept up in the emotion. Help customers understand how your course of action will help them. Acknowledge their displeasure, apologise for the inconvenience, and try to stay focused on doing your job.
Make irrelevant, offhanded comments
Such as: telling a customer “you’re the first person to have this problem…”
Why you’d say it: Sometimes a customer’s issue truly is unique or challenging. It might seem fair to acknowledge this in advance, to prepare the customer in case it's not an easy resolution and to declare your commitment to trying to solve it.
What it says to a customer: You’re in the wrong for experiencing this particular issue. This is a rare problem, and I’m not sure I’m able to help.
Even if this is the first time you’ve seen this problem, that’s irrelevant. After all, a customer doesn’t get a prize for being the first to experience a particular product issue, account malfunction, or complex order issue. Nor do they likely care.
Customers aren’t calling because their problem is rare or obscure; they’re calling because they need it fixed.
Telling them you’ve never dealt with or seen their particular issue before does no good. You’ll instill no confidence in their mind, nor add any value to the interaction – even if offhandedly mentioning so as small talk or filler. Instead, keep conversation courteous and pertinent to the issue at hand.
Play the blame game or eschew responsibility
Such as: blaming company policies or procedures
Why you’d do it: Restrictive corporate barriers outside your control prevent you from moving forward as you’d wish – so you assess blame where blame seems to belong.
What it says to a customer: I’ll dismiss this issue as being "out of my hands" (even though it’s really just a hollow excuse for being unable to help).
There are few things as off-putting as finding convenient (or inconvenient, as the case may be) excuses for being unable to move forward. The fact is that policies and procedures restrict us all. No one is completely without barriers to getting things done. Like it or not, you’ll have to work with the customer and the resources you have to find a way to help.
Don’t pit yourself against the customer by creating distance between you and the company for which you work. Try to keep the interaction with the customer a team effort, and tackle the issue together. Instead, find an avenue that is available to pursue, where you can solve the problem and play by the rules. Reassure the customer you can help them, and avoid playing the “blame game.”
Offer no plan of attack or give up
Such as: saying “well, I don’t know what to tell you…”
Why you’d say it: You’re out of options, likely frustrated, and aren’t sure what else to do
What it says to a customer: I no longer have interest in fixing the problem; my lack of knowledge and helpfulness has reached its peak, and it’s now up to you to fix the problem.
You may as well say “please leave our company and never do business with us again.” This is a one-way ticket to sending a customer right out the door. Not only is it a complete dead end to the conversation, but you'll also frustrate customers that are expecting at least a little direction and assistance.
It’s okay not to immediately know an answer. But the customer is calling you because you’re the expert. It’s your job to find the answer, or at least figure out the next steps the customer can take (whether that’s a follow-up email, a call back, or trying a new method).
Don't explain the process or make decisions without consent
Such as: Leaving, hanging up, or doing something without explanation
Why you’d do it: It’s likely late in the day (or a shift), you’re tired or frustrated; training didn’t teach the entire process
What it says to a customer: I clearly don’t care about my customer (or job); I’m unsure of what I’m doing.
I recall a personal story that illustrates this point fairly well.
I ordered a cake over the phone from a high-profile national grocer. When I got into the store, I went to the bakery for pick up. When I stated my name and order, the associate just turned around, and walked away. No greeting, no confirmation, no “oh okay, let me go check on that for you. I’ll be right back.” She didn’t return for another five or so minutes. Luckily, when she did, my cake was in hand.
The moral of this story is that employees are in a position of authority and need to do more than address inquiries – they must mindfully communicate each step with customers. That means asking customers if it’s okay to place them on hold. It means letting customers know you’re going in the back to check for an order, or another size, or whatever. Seems simple, but critical.
While it takes months and months to build customer loyalty and satisfaction, it only takes a second to dismantle it.
Respectfulness and resourcefulness are really the two most important attributes that customer service employees can have. At the end of the day, reps need to be friendly, helpful, motivated individuals with a genuine interest in making a customer’s day.
Continuing to do the things on this list will eventually lead to greater customer dissatisfaction and ultimately losing valuable customers.
Stay wary of these points as you push toward increased customer retention each day. As a summary, make sure customer service agents:
- Maintain accountability and take responsibility.
- Empathise with customers.
- Remain calm and tempter customers’ anger by fixing their problem.
- Focus on keeping the conversation relevant and meaningful.
- Avoid creating distance between the company and themselves.
- Don’t leave a customer’s problem worse than it was before they contacted you.
- Always explain the process they’re going to take to solve a problem.
Hopefully these points help you treat customers better, but also remind you how NOT to treat them. The difference is the value of a lifetime customer vs. not having that customer’s business at all.