Emotion and logic are generally considered to be opposite sides of the same coin. While we all have the ability to tap into both of these aspects of our personality, many people self-profess to lean towards one or the other when making decisions and often as a general approach to handling life circumstances. Logic is widely considered the superior decision-making vehicle, whether from a proactive or reactive standpoint. Society views people who make decisions based solely on their emotions as less advanced than those who can put aside those emotions and focus on facts. Unfortunately, logical discussion is rarely an effective option when managing customer complaints.
Research by USC Neuroscience professor Antonio Damasio has determined that our decisions are inherently made on an emotional level. We may use logic to drive us towards an eventual decision, but it is emotions that engage during the final moments to move us from inaction to action. When you are interacting with an upset customer, that person has already made an emotional decision to reach out and seek resolution for their problems. While any customer service professional will tell you that the range of customer interactions varies wildly across the logic/emotion spectrum, it can be challenging to determine whether customers are likely to respond positively to logical discourse. This leaves us with a disconnect between the customers’ circumstances and our response.
It would seem that the most powerful tool for the customer service agent would be facts; however, this is often not the case. I recently spoke with a customer who was openly upset with a policy that I – objectively, I believe – considered to be not only reasonable on our part but essential to guard against fraud. The primary purpose of this policy was to protect customer information. Furthermore, the policy was mandated by Federal regulation! That seems like a strong battery of logical ammunition to convince a customer to see things your way. As you may guess, none of this information altered the customer’s perception that the policy was unnecessary and downright ridiculous.
When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion – Dale Carnegie
How, then, are we to speak with patients who are emotional? Here are three techniques for optimizing these customer interactions and promoting the best possible customer service outcomes.
Temper Your ‘Explanations’
Many people perceive no difference between an explanation and an excuse. This perception increases when customers are displeased or emotional. It is a natural reaction to response defensively when we feel that we are being attacked. Customers may put us on the defensive with accusations and attempts to place blame. As a result, we may feel compelled to explain our position or circumstances under the assumption that information will calm our customers and make them aware and accepting of the possibility that they are being unreasonable and that may shoulder some of the responsibility for their current situation.
Explanations should not be avoided if requested by a customer; however, they should not be utilized as a means to change the mind of an upset customer. Customers want to know that they have a voice and that we are listening to them. They would also like to end an interactive with the feeling of validation. It is our job as customer service professionals to find a way that the customer can be ‘right’ – even in situations where the customer’s problems may be entirely of their own making. Explanations naturally detract from this purpose and must be catered to the receptivity of the customer in details and usage.
Acknowledge the Truth
It can be difficult to promote this option to your customer service agents. The fear of litigation can be a strong deterrent to allowing honest recognition of shortcomings or failures. Admitting our failures is a key component to improving our processes. Every complaints must be viewed as an opportunity – as the receipt of valuable information regarding our services, offerings, options, procedures, etc. We must be willing to hold an open dialogue with customers regarding both our strengths and our weaknesses. Acknowledging the truth in customer claims also provides an opportunity for validation. How better to demonstrate honest listening than to recognize the accuracy in our customer’s concerns?
Acknowledging the truth goes beyond the typical customer service approach of apologize, apologize, apologize. Customers may find frequent apologies that lack obvious sincerity to be as annoying as the original problem. The message they are receiving is that your company is not listening to their specific issue. There is a tremendous difference to a customer between “I’m sorry to hear that” and “I’m sorry we created this problem for you.” The second statement takes ownership of the situation while the first is a canned response that any customer will recognize immediately. Taking ownership is the key to this technique and our customer service agents must be empowered with this option.
Provide Value to Their Experiences
Apologies grow old quickly. How do you respond to a customer who’s intention seems to be to berate your company or employees regarding situations that require no resolution? These are the customers who call “just to complain.” Perhaps they are truly placing blame on your organization for circumstances beyond your control. In these situations, we must focus on the benefit we receive from that customer. Recognize their openness and willingness to present their issues and emphasize that we cannot improve our services without honest feedback from customers such as them. This can be taken a step further: request permission from the customer to use their story in future employee training, for example. Concentrate on the improvements that can be made thanks to the customer’s feedback and benefits that feedback will provide to future customers.
In these situations, there may be little you can offer to the customer in the way of tangible compensation. You can, however, seek to find some value in the situation and relay that value back to the customer. Consider how you would feel in the customer’s situation and seek to respond with empathy.
What techniques do you have for unhappy customers? Leave a comment below!