6 solutions for bad customer service situations
We’d like to think every interaction with our customers is amazing. We’re helpful, concise, affable, and always get high praise from candid feedback. Then reality strikes – even with the best training, customer service experiences don’t always happen as planned. Simply put, sometimes things go south. Maybe an agent was looking at the wrong customer profile or misheard the customer’s concern and offered the incorrect answer. These things happen to even the best customer service teams, but it’s how you handle these situations that distinguishes the good teams from the great ones. With this said, here are 6 efficient fixes for bad customer service situations that will help take your customer service to the next level...
1) Get employees together and collaborate before responding – If negative feedback for an agent (or multiple agents) comes in, don’t immediately respond back to the customer with a generic message. Talk to the agents – either individually or as a group, depending on the situation – and figure out what happened from their perspective. Collaboration actually enhances the customer service process and this is especially true during a bad customer service situation. While it’s easy to believe the customer, remember your agents are likely people you have been working with daily for a long time. You’ve stuck together through thick and thin. Believe them until proven otherwise and devise a strategy to appease the customer without throwing the agent(s) under the bus.
2) Monetise your “I’m Sorry” message – This may not work well in all industries but it can be successful when and where it is appropriate. The concept is straightforward; people love free stuff, they always will, and it can work to easily smooth things over. However, it’s important to keep track of who receives freebies as you don’t want to keep sending them to the same customers as a reward for bad behavior. In addition, if you’re a B2B company it’s recommended to reach out first to make sure the customer can receive gifts on behalf of their company. You shouldn’t send a gift to an already unhappy customer who can get in hot water for receiving a present because their company has a policy against it.
3) Apologise and be sincere about it – Quite the opposite of gifts, sometimes people are looking for something that won’t arrive in 3 to 5 business days – an authentic apology. If possible, bring in a fellow employee who has a positive working relationship with the customer to start the apology dialogue. A phone call on their time is a good way to go, with the conversation remaining brief and to the point. Include the impacted agent(s) if possible so they can hear the conversation and apologize if needed. Even if the customer starts getting argumentative or defensive, remember this is not the place for conflict. Hear them out, take your lumps if you must, and move on. Remember that they are the customer and unless it’s becoming highly personal it’s likely not worth arguing and losing their business.
4) Arrange an in-person meeting – While not always possible this can be a very efficient fix for a bad customer service situation, especially if you have strong interpersonal skills. Whether it’s offering to meet over lunch, at their office, or at a tradeshow booth, make sure you are on time and prepared, just like you would be for a partner meeting. Attempt to start the conversation off casually and let the topic of bad customer service come up naturally if possible. When it does, offer a sincere apology and continue the dialogue when you can. Your apology will be acknowledged and you will be able to tell by their face-to-face reaction how it is received. If the apology is received well then great; no reason to bring up the issue again. If it isn’t, consider the next fix.
5) Escalate the issue to a superior within the company – Sometimes an apology isn’t accepted or an issue is so severe it shouldn’t even be attempted. This is when you escalate the issue within your company and get others involved. Brief them on the situation and follow their recommendation, be it a follow up via phone or even an “executive to executive” meeting between the two companies. This fix can be effective, but use it sparingly and only as absolutely needed. While it shows you take customer service seriously, if this happens every time there is an issue the fix loses value with the customer. This isn’t a solution to rely on every time something goes wrong.
6) Attempt to further minimise bad customer service experiences – Arguably the most important fix is preventative – the fewer bad customer service experiences that happen, the less you’ll have to be in this situation. Being preventative in how you work with customers, such as using customer support software with detailed customer and company information, can help a lot in enabling your team to provide accurate customer information. Customers may be your lifeblood as a company, but just like you they are also in the wrong sometimes. Unfortunately, they aren’t exactly held to the same accountability as you to admit their wrongdoing, so the less you need to rely on them for information and answers the better.
To summarize, fixing a bad customer service situation is primarily about accountability and communication. Gather up your information, take ownership of the situation, and figure out the best method to resolve the situation that will resonate in the most effective way with the customer. Whatever you choose, make sure your message is clear and sincere so there is no room for interpretation by the customer. However, at the end of the day, you should be striving to minimize the amount of times you need to apply fixes by deploying a system of customer intelligence and information your agents can utilize so they can rely less on information supplied by the customer. The customer is NOT always right, and by storing historical customer and company information it simplifies and streamlines the customer service experience for agents so they can focus more on keeping customers happy.
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Robert C. Johnson is the co-founder and CEO of TeamSupport.com, a cloud-based, B2B software application built to help customer-facing support teams serve clients better through stronger collaboration, superior teamwork, and faster issue resolution. A seasoned executive and entrepreneur who has founded and invested in numerous software and high-...