You have probably heard of this quote. Popularised by the plaque on the desk of the 33rd US President Harry Truman, this is one phrase that has found a permanent place in history as the benchmark for ‘leaders taking accountability for the actions of their team’.
And it couldn’t be any more true when you are talking to a customer.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a techie or a marketing guy or the salesperson, when a customer tells you about a problem they are having — YOU ARE THE CUSTOMER SUPPORT!
Say that three times. Let it get etched in your brain. Let those be the words you live by.
YOUR COMPANY IS A SUM TOTAL OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU
I have come across people who would suggest the customer to reach out to the customer support team, and just like that, they have shifted the responsibility of making a customer happy to someone else. Someone who they think is responsible for that.
And that is what the mistake is.
When a customer is telling you about a good/bad experience he/she has had with your business, you stop being whosoever you are in the company. You ARE the company now. That’s how the customer looks at you as — for him/her, you represent the brand in question.
And how you deal with such issues will determine whether you just won your business a delighted customer or not.
EMPATHIZE, NOT APOLOGIZE
I have seen, heard and read a lot of advice on how to deal with an angry/frustrated customer, and it always starts with one simple tip — “Apologize.” I am here to tell you DON’T. In my opinion that is such bullshit advice. Apologize? Do you seriously think the customer is looking for an apology? Don’t you think the customer can see a non-genuine, insincere apology a mile away? I have been on both sides of a bad experience, and trust me — there is nothing more infuriating than a fake apology.
You need to empathize with the customer. You need to put yourself in his/her shoe and ask yourself one simple question:
If I was in the customer’s position, how would I have expected the business to help me out?
And no, discounts, refund, free shit isn’t the answer here. That is just putting lipstick on a pig and calling it pretty. I mean really ask yourself deep down what would have made the harrowing experience take a complete u-turn and help you leave as a delighted customer. That is exactly what you should target when you are talking to a customer.
BUT ISN’T THAT LITERALLY THE CUSTOMER SERVICE TEAM’S JOB?
Yes, it is. Within your organization. And businesses need to figure out how to streamline that whole process better so that a customer doesn’t need to reach out to a random employee. But while that is happening, you are the company, and as such, today, you are the customer support.
I am not suggesting that you need to resolve the matter yourself. What I am suggesting is that you become the customer’s champion from this point. You tell the customer — “It’s strange that this happened. We certainly aim to provide a better experience to our customers. Let me take a day to look into this matter, and I will personally update you on what’s happening on this front.”
Once you have done that, within a day you mail the customer with the relevant person in CC so that the customer can see that the balls have been set in motion.
The entire magic can happen in the background, in a separate mail thread — one that may not include the customer.
But you make it a point that the person you connected the person with is offering the customer timely updates, preferably keeping you in CC.
And lo and behold, the customer’s issue is solved. What now?
Now? Now you apologize. This is the right time for the apology. Not for anything else, but for the simple fact that the customer had a bad experience with the business. An experience you would prefer no other customer has to go through.
You reach out to the customer, you mention that you were informed that the issue has been resolved, and you ask them if the issue has indeed been resolved to their satisfaction. Once they respond, you thank them, you tell them that as a business, the team will be working on improving processes that negate the chances of such an issue coming up again, and then you apologize for what he/she had to go through.
It isn’t about the apology. It is what and when you are apologizing for. When a customer is having a bad experience, all he/she cares about is for the experience to be turned around. Once the issue has been resolved, your apology would be taken in the right spirit. The customer would be more appreciative of it.
Remember, your consumers are rational, reasonable people. They understand that at the end of the day, businesses are run by humans, and as such, are prone to mistakes. Mistakes are fine. Mistakes are forgiven. As long as you show an actual and genuine intent to undo what went wrong.
DON’T FOLLOW BULLSHIT TIPS ON DEALING WITH CUSTOMERS
Most customer service teams follow manuals. Some sort of a BlackBook. And it all looks exactly the same:
- Start with an apology
- Use their names in your sentences
- Offer discounts
- Offer solutions
- Ask them for solutions
I mean, what kind of bullshit advice is that?
I am sorry you had a bad experience with our services, Mark.
Let me quickly check on it, Mark.
Mark, as I can see in our system, the order was placed on 12-Aug at 6:20pm
I swear to God, if I hear Mark one more time, I am gonna strangle someone to death.
Just be human, don’t be a machine.
Don’t follow guidelines on how to talk to your consumers. The best way to talk to your consumers is how you would have talked to a friend who is going through a bad experience.
Don’t throw the book away. But just use it as a guiding light on what to do if a customer is having problems of a certain type. That’s it. It is not the playbook, it is an indicative guide.
Don’t ask your customers to reach out to you in your responses.
Have you ever come across a bad review on App store, and the developer’s response “please mail us on email@example.com”. Don’t. Don’t do that. Try to help out as much as possible then and there.
I understand that not all (if any) issues can be resolved right there, and that is why I said “help out as much as possible”. Don’t let your response be a boilerplate templated copy. Why? Because other customers are watching the bad review, but they are not seeing any action from your side. That leaves a bad experience even before they have had a chance to try out your product/services. That’s just bad business. Plain and simple.
Don’t let your customers stew.
Some resolutions may be swift, some resolutions may take time. That is understandable. What isn’t is you making the customer wait for days and weeks without an update. Keep your customer informed at every step of the way. Make him feel that resolving his/her issue is of importance to the business and you guys are working on it, and will continue working on it till you come up with a solution.
Be honest, be transparent.
Don’t bullshit the customer. Even if the issue can’t be resolved because of whatsoever reason, tell them so, offer your apologies for the bad experience and see how you can best salvage the situation.
Don’t leave even a single bad experience unaddressed
It doesn’t matter if you have delighted thousands of customers, one disgruntled customer will end up influencing dozens more. So it is of utmost importance that you address each and every bad experience. Resolve it if you can, address it adequately if you can’t. Don’t just let it stick out like a sore thumb.
WHY IS THIS SO IMPORTANT?
Because businesses are in the business of making money. And you make money because your customers are transacting with you. And they are transacting with you because they trust you as a business. You lose that trust, and the whole charade crumbles down faster than a house of cards.
Always remember, people are cynical of positive reviews, they always take them with a pinch of salt. But negative reviews, negative reviews are sacrosanct while forming an opinion about a brand.