Some customer service interactions are simple. They follow established protocols or guidelines – with information that is readily available to customers. Customer requests such as product returns are frequently managed through an established procedure that is publicly available knowledge to the customer. Some interactions, however, do not follow any given protocol – or perhaps differ enough from a general scenario that customer service representatives must be flexible and tailor resolution to the needs of the customer. Here are three key elements to positive customer interactions when a specific resolution process is not available.
1. Manage Expectations
Never assume you know what the customer wants. You may believe that a customer has a specific request in mind, but let the customer be the person to present this information. When addressing specific requests, be clear about what you can and can not do for the customer. If a request is unreasonable, present rational arguments to customers with caution. In most situations, customers would not be making a request unless they already considered it to be reasonable from their perspective. Manage the customer’s expectations throughout interactions to avoid creating hostility if you must eventually answer ‘no’.
2. Be Respectful
Whether you personally agree with a customer’s thoughts and opinions or not is irrelevant. You can not expect a customer to work with you if are unwilling to see a situation from their perspective. There are two sides to every story, and from a customer’s viewpoint only one of those sides matters. Positive customer experience begins with active listening on our part. We must respect our customers enough to listen to their stories and concerns and not jump to conclusions. How often I find as a manager that customer complaints were caused primarily by poor communication – and, more often than I’d like – from myself or my team. Respectful communication is essential to positive customer experience.
3. Remember How to Win
Customer service should never be a competition. We should avoid being defensive with our customers and instead view interactions as cooperative endeavors. We frequently hear of customer service procedures that operate as if all encounters result in a zero sum – in any given exchange, there is a winner, and a loser. These are the recorded calls that receive national media attention and result in significant damage to a company’s image. The reality is that customer relationships are synergistic – when our customers win we win as well. While there are occasional exceptions when customers are truly unreasonable, most of the time a happy customer will pay greater dividends in the long run than a righteous stance from a customer service representative.
More often than not customers present to us with highly reasonable concerns that require adaptation on our parts to address adequately. We must be able to engage empathetically and with the customers’ best interest at heart. After all, what is the point of customer service if we do not actually serve the customer?
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