Think back to the last time you called customer service. Usually you call because something’s gone wrong, you don’t understand what has happened, or you do understand exactly what’s gone wrong and you are not happy. When your issue was solved, how did you feel? Did the process end with your anger diffused, your problem solved, and your mood improved? In the best case, all of those things were accomplished. And the Agent who helped you likely avoided three common customer service mistakes:
Mistake 1: You need to be friendly at all costs even when there is accurate, difficult information to share
Mistake 2: The Customer Always Wants All of the Information
Mistake 3: You need to get the Customer Off of the Call as Soon as Humanly Possible
Some Practical Suggestions
Let’s unpack these ideas to see how to avoid them, starting with the need to be friendly. What does this mean from the perspective of the customer? You should embrace the possibility of an unpleasant conversation by first being polite – “Hello, how are you doing today” – and then sharing the facts of the situation. Be careful to ask for as much information as you need from the customer to determine what’s necessary to do next. And when you find that there is accurate, difficult information to share, share these facts in the context of the customer’s response, e.g. “it sounds like you’re trying to do this … the feature or service is intended to do that … and the way you’re using it will not work in the way that you intend. Would you like to hear some options for doing this differently?”
How to avoid the “friendly trap”: acknowledge the customer’s issue, share the relevant facts, provide the impact of these decisions, and ask the customer how to proceed. You can be civil, polite, and cheerful without being friendly at the expense of being accurate.
How Much Information Should You Share?
Now that you’ve uncovered the issue, you might assume – based on your experience – that the customer always wants all of the possible information required to solve the problem. In a complex product or service, there might be (and usually is the case that there are) several ways to address the issue, each way having specific drawbacks or advantages. A superhero customer advocate will understand from the information already gathered whether the customer is open to hearing multiple avenues to success, or simply wants to know “the right way to do it.” And the right way to do it might vary depending upon the customer’s experience, sophistication, time allotted to solve the problem or preference.
How to put the customer in the position to succeed: identify the best solution for that customer to solve that problem, instead of all of the possible solutions.
End the Call ASAP, Right?
You might also think that this investigation will take a really long time, and it’s probably been drummed into your head that you need to get the customer off of the phone as fast as humanly possible. While your longest call likely won’t last nine hours and 37 minutes like the record set by the Zappos team in Las Vegas, it’s more important to solve the problem customer (think about the goal of “one and done”) than it is simply to give the first possible answer and then send them along their merry way. The goal is to get to the root cause of the issue without being rushed, and then to solve the customer’s problem in a relaxed and upbeat way. Your mileage may vary in specifying an “ideal” length of call unless you handle tens of thousands of calls a month, as New Yorkers and Californians may respond to your questions differently. The ultimate goal is the same – be efficient, appropriate, and direct – and if your brand promise demands it (like Zappos) just stay on the line for as long as the customer needs.
When should you end the call? It depends, and usually varies based on the person, the complexity of the call, and the expectation that they have. Be flexible and you’ll make more customers happy; but don’t flex to the point of breaking.
These are a few of the most common customer service mistakes that you can fix, and the best way to identify the types of calls that cause problems are to identify what happened with your most unhappy, happiest, and most frequent calling customers. Focusing on active listening, offering options to place the customer in a position to succeed, and ending the call as appropriate will help you to avoid these common customer service pitfalls.