One of our readers – one who is really good at her job and full of joy and good will – asked us to write about this:
How do you bounce back from an encounter with a difficult customer?
And honestly, my heart sank.
But I was not surprised.
If you’ve spent one hour in a customer service position,
If you’ve spent one day as a parent organizer for a school fundraiser,
If you’ve spent one week as volunteer at a non-profit organization,
If you’ve ever, in your whole life, answered a phone call or written a blog post or updated your facebook status or tweeted a thought or posted an Instagram,
…then you may have been the victim of “undue misplaced generalized dissatisfaction syndrome.”
Customer service is hard. You play the personality lottery each time you pick up the phone. Everyday, I count my blessings because the clients I serve for Miles & Company are some of the smartest, kindest, funniest, most professional people I have ever had the pleasure to know. Knowing this gives me the courage to make the calls, send the emails, and post the blogs. Add to that, the people I work with at Miles & Company have my back. They support, encourage, help, and just generally make me better at my job. You bet I’m grateful!
But back in the day, two or three careers ago, I had my share. Callers attacking. Parents raging. Media sales reps pushing. Volunteers grumbling. News reporters (only the unprofessional ones!) shoving mics in my face. “Kill them with kindness,” has often been my battlecry. I found that a combination of kindness and professionalism can diffuse almost any situation. But these kind of daily interactions can suck the life right out of even the most joyful person. How do you keep going? How do you keep from saying something you’ll regret? How do you represent your employer honorably?
If you’re doing your job, with the best intentions, on a regular day, feeling good about your product, your company, your post, your status, your tweet, when a difficult customer ruins everything, then read on, dear one. And take courage.
The bounce back begins before the phone ever rings. Before you pick up your defensive shield and draw back your arrow, keep these five simple points in mind:
1. It’s not about you. There are just a lot of angry people in the world. There are a lot of people who are hurting on a level that cannot be imagined by you and by me. That person has no idea (nor do they care) about what kind of day you are having.
2. Before you pick up the phone, smile. It will magically change your disposition which can, in turn, diffuse the fussiest of callers.
3. Be prepared to listen. Based on years of experience in customer service, community relations, and account representation, I find that what most people want is to be heard. Listen more than you talk. Ask questions. Reflect back what you hear with statements like “What I hear you saying is….” “What you’d like to see happen is…” “Would it be alright if I…”
4. It’s not your job to make everyone happy. Solve the problem if you can. If you can’t, let the caller know that you don’t have the solution at hand, but you will look into it and get back with them. Then follow up. That’s your only responsibility here.
5. In the words of Taylor Swift, “Shake it Off.” Shake the metaphorical Etch-a-Sketch to remove that unpleasant experience. Don’t give the bully the power to ruin your perfectly good day.
And finally, a note to all the bosses out there:
Ahem… (I borrowed Ryan’s soapbox for this one.)
Have you empowered your phone-answering grief-taking verbal punching-bag of an employee to bring those difficult encounters to you for solutions? Have you encouraged them with kind words, gift cards, or official employment record affirmations on a regular basis? Remember that the front line is tough place to serve. Every customer service soldier deserves a general who cares enough to notice, to support, and to run interference when necessary. Under no circumstances should your employees be expected to endure abuse from customers or other employees. It’s your job to have the tough conversations. Thank you for your attention in this regard.
P.S. (To be really awesome, take the employee’s phone duty for an hour or two. Walk a mile in her shoes and know just what’s happening on your front line.)