Fast growth companies deal with more and more customers – it’s implied in growth. Having more and more customers increases the risk that some will be unhappy. More unhappy customers will increase the chance of unreasonable customers, and unreasonable customers are top of my mind. Why? Because I just ran across some 18-year-old notes from my work at a major casino. At the time, the internet was not well used for feedback, reviews, and ratings by customers. It was a time when you called, and a person actually answered the phone.
I acknowledge that times are different yet would emphasize that we still deal with people – face to face, phone to phone, email to email. It’s communication - period. Just last week I received a call from a fast-growth, high-customer-touch client. They were challenged with company representatives handling irate callers. So, let’s agree that if you ever interact with people, there is a chance for disagreement. My focus today is the same as it was for the caller – the boss. All the training and development you can buy won’t change your customer relationship unless you have the right boss in place. Call them customer service supervisor, shift manager, call center director, vice president, entrepreneur or other and this is the key position for a pivot to customer service. When your team has interactions with people that are seemingly unreasonable, even irate, then this is the person to empower your team to act.
If the book, training, or experience that you employ for your team is prescriptive, i.e. “when they say that, then you say this,” then the boss is the one that sucks. Still unsure? Here’s the quick test: at your next meeting, choose a person, give them a customer scenario, state what a customer might say, and ask them to respond. If you hear something like, “I don’t have a script for that scenario,” or you hear a horrible response, then you’ll know. As the boss, you suck. Prescriptive training will not work, and contrary to your logic, it is not scalable. Read on, boss, as I take you directly to these tough conversations and bridge my 18-year-old techniques with the reality of today’s circumstances.
First, be a good listener.
Empower your team to be a good listener. With a script, your team actually has to listen less to what a customer says. I’ll use the local cable company as an example. Let’s suppose that it’s Friday night and I’m watching a movie. The streaming stops. Having experienced this before and talked with a cable service rep on several occasions, I know to restart my cable box and my router. I know the order to complete these steps and how many seconds to wait before the restart, and I know how to test my connection speed. After completing these steps to no avail, I call the company. The support person on the line listens, hears what I say, and then proceeds to walk me through the same steps that I just completed. It’s irritating to be forced to take the same steps again before my call is escalated to the next level of tech support. By the time this issue is solved, I still have a complaint.
Throw out the script so your team members can be good listeners and respond to what they hear. Encourage this with impromptu skill play in meetings using scenarios that include unusual facts or details. Many good leaders will stop the team member in the middle of their response and ask for the facts that were just shared in the scenario, and for the ones deemed most important. You can see how (over time) this would make anyone a better listener and help develop the skill of prioritizing any important points or facts.
Second, offer options.
Options reduce stress if for no other reason than the person has to think. This supports why you should throw out the script and as boss, you can incorporate options in the above mentioned impromptu skill play. Once your team gets (reasonably) proficient in listening skill play and prioritizing facts or details, you may enhance your team’s skills by turning to another team member and asking for asking them to offer a (different) set of options. You want to offer your customers choices whenever possible so make your team practice. You’re listening for things like:
- We can handle this on the phone or you can go to the website. Which is easiest for you?
- Reply to this email or call me direct at 555-5555.
- You can reply and attach the documents or take well-lit pictures and text to 555-5555.
If your customer-facing team members follow a script with irate customers, or they learn by trial and error, then you suck as a boss. Positive interactions with irate customers come from empowering your team - and they should be repeatable, teachable, and scalable for your growing company. If you’re the boss, prepare your team for your toughest customer. De-suck your leadership so team members can positively handle your irate customer without your involvement. Empower your team to listen well and offer irate customers options (whenever possible), and it won’t be long before you no longer suck as the boss! Welcome to true leadership.
Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images