When the Customer is to Blame for Bad Customer Service

John Krautzel
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Customer service is where the rubber meets the road in business. Nowhere else in the supply network will the people who keep you afloat have such close contact with your company. This is why bad customer service is such a disaster for a company to deal with. Whatever your pricing and however superior your product, you simply won't overcome the objections of a consumer who has had a bad customer service experience. Of course, even the most careful customer service rep is occasionally going to come across the customer who simply cannot be pleased, no matter what. There are few customer service tips that anticipate retaining that customer, or even better—upselling the customer's service. A guide of sorts to turning around bad customer service experiences seems in order.

Bad customer service is like a fatal illness. The symptoms might not be obvious at first, but the steady attrition of customers will chip away at your company's goodwill until you're left with a diminished market share. Turning that around, however, is like working a magic spell. With a pleasant person-to-person experience, even dissatisfied customers will often assume that it isn't the fault of a company that so obviously cares about its clientele.

In avoiding bad customer service, the first thing to keep in mind is that sometimes you just can't do what the customer wants. Yes, sometimes the customer isn't right, and you just can't issue a refund on toothpaste or credit thousands of dollars to the customer's account the way they're asking. In other words, you have to tell them no. Your best bet here is to learn how to say "no" in a way that sounds like "yes." Instead of quoting from the rules, become the customer's advocate in arranging an exchange of the product or possibly give them a discount on a future purchase. This diverts a confrontation over the (unchangeable) rules into a shared effort to get justice together.

Most customer service tips advise listening to the customer who's not satisfied. This works, but what they leave out is that some dissatisfied customers really are calling just because they want to vent. It isn't bad customer service to ease these people off the phone or out of the store, but it has to be done delicately and with the customer left feeling that the experience has been positive. Referring inveterate complainers to a supervisor might bring you a moment of peace, true, but ultimately this isn't a solution. Your supervisor is there to spin plates in the background. Handling the customer is your job. Try directing the conversation toward the heart of the matter.

When it's clear that there is no solvable issue here and that the customer is mostly using you as a sounding board for a one-sided conversation, a good—and potentially profitable—answer is to enter a sales pitch. Try upselling the customer's account from a basic plan to a premium one. Try exchanging a defective item for a more expensive version. Either the customer will back away from a shameless attempt to make a sale or actually end the interaction by agreeing to it. Either way, you've diverted a bad customer service encounter into more productive territory.

While the public's perception of a bad customer service experience can't always be controlled, actual bad customer service is almost always avoidable. Learn to listen, learn to take charge, and learn to divert an unproductive interaction into territory that will leave the customer feeling satisfied. While there is no magic bullet for avoiding bad customer service altogether, a careful approach to each customer will have them coming back over and over again.

(Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net)


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