Talking to a customer is like being on stage

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If you’ve spent any time talking to customers, you’ll know what I mean when I say that talking to a customer feels like being on stage. When you pick up the phone or walk into the room with a customer, you know that you need to put on a “good face”, be careful what you say, and to present the best version of yourself so that you can help them solve their problems.

Customers expect that you will know them, that you will know how to solve their problem, and that you will do a great job while pleasantly maintaining a conversation. Sometimes, this is very easy – and other times, incredibly hard. And the best customer advocates instantly hone in on the tone of the customer’s voice, the specific problem that they are trying to solve, and are able to combine the solution to the problem and a great attitude to make that solution feel to the customer like it’s customized just for them. It’s an art, really.

Comparing customer service to being on stage is an apt comparison because things don’t always go right in the wings. Sometimes the understudy needs to take on a starring role. Other times, people might forget their lines. And the show must go on.

There are a few things that help when you’re talking to customers to make this easier. Everyone who talks to customers should be able to make a 30 second pitch for what makes your company different or better in your space, and to expand upon that pitch when people have questions. Make that pitch about 50 times, and it will feel familiar. Having a formal call flow, written as a flow chart or as a list of steps or checklist, helps as well. When you’re flustered by a customer who’s having a bad day, the last thing you need is to not know the next talking point you’re going to share.

It seems like a small thing and adds up

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It seems like a small thing to be nice. It seems like a small thing to say “thank you.” And it seems like a small thing to suggest a solution to the problem you found. Yet doing these small things is a powerful catalyst for customer service.

Start with the basics: be nice.

If you start with the premise that other people are trying to help you, and if you use that belief as a way to start your conversation, you’ll get farther in most situations than if you assume the worst. Being nice – as your parents or grandparents may have taught you – is a key component of providing great service. Because you remember how someone made you feel in a given situation.

70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels.

Saying “thank you” adds to the start that you created by being nice. Saying “thank you” shows the customer that you appreciate they contacted you and that you are ready to help them. And companies that thank their employees have triple the return on equity compared to companies who don’t. So why wouldn’t you want to deliver the same respect to your customer – it adds to their emotional benefit and to the bottom line of your business.

Spot it? Got It!

Once you find the root of the customer issue, especially when you are pointing out that you’ve identified a problem, you should suggest a solution to that issue in addition to simply asking for more information. By presenting information for the customer, framing it in the context of their situation, and providing a solution, you not only become an advocate for the customer but also give them the opportunity to finish the issue.

So here are 3 things you can do to give better service the next time you talk to a customer (or to anyone else)

  1. When in doubt, be nice.
  2. Say “Thank you” in your response.
  3. Suggest a solution to the problem at hand in addition to asking for more information.

You can find 47 other ways to provide customer service as part of the Thank You Effect

How to hire Customer Service Superheroes

Say you’re going to start a company, and the first thing you want to do is provide amazing customer service. Are you going to hire the brilliant person who alienates customers? Or are you going to hire the friendly person who can’t solve a problem?

You probably want both qualities:

    1. The knowledge and skill required to identify and resolve a problem quickly to the customer’s satisfaction.
    2. The empathy and attitude to help the customer feel great about the whole process, even when the situation isn’t ideal.

So how should you go about hiring great customer service reps who are going to thrill customers?

You know them when you see them, because to get through your door they need to do a few things. They need to be punctual, friendly, and affable. They need to offer what’s next for the customer (like a great salesperson) and do more than just ask, “How can I help you?” Great customer service reps will do an excellent job placing themselves in the customer’s shoes and actively making a difference for the customer, whether that customer is a brand new trial customer or one of your most valued and valuable customers.

The first thing you should do when finding a great customer advocate is to ask them to tell you a story about something they know well.

This could be anything from making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to the process of learning how to surf — the key indicator is to understand whether they follow a standard and understandable way to explain a situation. A great mantra for your team should be “tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you told ‘em.” A great advocate will be able to share the technical steps of the thing they know well and also sound passionate or excited.

The second thing you should do is call them on a mobile phone (preferably from another room) and ask them about something you know well and that they might not know at all.

Experiencing the sound of how someone deals with the pressure of needing to answer a customer when they don’t know the answer is an excellent indicator of the agent’s ability to respond to new things under pressure. Successful customer advocates will keep their cool, understand the details of the problem at hand, detail to the customer what they’re going to do, and set a date and time for follow-up (even if they don’t know anything about how to solve the problem yet).

And finally, you can hire customer advocates who will thrill the customer by finding and hiring lifelong learners.

The kind of people who ask “why” and “what’s next” and can also explain these ideas to the customer (who is either a complete newbie or a demanding person on a deadline) will prove to be excellent agents.

You should hire for attitude — it’s something that’s very difficult to teach — and find the kind of person who will teach themself the process or the technology as they go. If you can’t find both of those qualities, you should wait until you find that person wherever they are. Because the kind of attributes shared by the customer service agent who can thrill customers also overlap with someone who can deliver stellar results with less supervision overall.

If you’re wondering why this is important, consider that as Shep Hyken points out, 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of poor customer service.

Originally posted at

Can you turn a critic into your biggest fan?

Don't feed the Trolls
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Photo by Jonathon Colman.

Is it possible to turn a critic into a raving fan? Should you ever feed a troll? Should you even engage for fear of starting a flame war? In my experience, the answers to all of these questions are yes, yes, and yes. You can always win by hugging customers very, very tightly. No, you don’t have to hug them to within an inch of their life and you can always acknowledge what they are saying, redirect them to useful resources, and take the high ground.

Listening to your critics unlocks problems your company hasn’t faced

Your most passionate critic has the possibility of being your most passionate supporter, and you should help them to get there. There’s no guarantee that you can turn a critic into a raving fan, but the critics are telling you things you need to hear about your product, your brand, and your company, so you should listen (even when you feel that they’re wrong).

The process of turning a critic into a raving fan takes three steps. First, you need to let them know that you’ve heard them. That doesn’t mean ranting back at them. It does mean thanking them for their contribution, and clarifying (by sharing the facts, not your opinion) any counter-factual statements they’ve made. If you can do this action quickly, all the better — time is on your side when someone is yelling at you, because they’ve often been secretly annoyed with you for a while and something happened that immediately brought their frustration to the surface.

Empathize and learn

Second, you need to find out what the critic feels you did wrong. This part is perhaps the most important: the ability to place yourself in the shoes of the critic, to understand and empathize with their frustration, and to truly get what’s going on for them and what caused them to be so annoyed that they shouted at you (publicly or privately). It’s also really important to understand the one thing you might be able to do to make things better for your customer, so it’s important to ask them how to fix the problem.

Third, you need to reach out to the critic and demonstrate your good will. There are lots of great ways to do this, from engaging in public conversation to sending t-shirts or other goodies, or sometimes even to send cookies. The key item here is to address the specific concern the critic raised. If you’re never going to fix that problem, politely agree to disagree and suggest an alternate product or service. If you screwed up and need to do something to fix it, tell the customer how you can make it better. And if there’s no fixing it, just apologize and share the steps you’re taking to ensure that it never happens again. And you’ll know whether you got this right if they also thank you for reaching out (bonus points if they do this publicly) and let you know that they are happy(ier) again.

Know when to walk away

Except when they don’t. Because part of of the task of turning a critic into a raving fan is that — even if you believe in the basic goodness of people and try like heck to improve whatever it is they asked you to fix — you might get it wrong, be misinterpreted, or run into a critic who simply will not be mollified by any of your efforts. And at that point the best thing you can do is hug the customer (as tightly as you can) and move on. Responding quickly and effectively while offering a solution and steps for future improvement is the best way to move forward.

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