It’s bound to happen to even the best-trained service teams: You commit one of the “7 deadly sins” of service calls and find yourself at the receiving end of a customer’s angry tirade. He or she is upset, and all you want is to get the job done — and done well — and to leave knowing you solved the issue and helped change their mind, too. Here are a few strategies for diffusing a tense situation and earning back hard-earned respect.
Focus on Fixing the Customer’s Gripes — Not the Equipment
A common trap that field service engineers fall into: “They can piss off a customer faster than a speeding bullet,” says Bill Bleuel, a professor of decision sciences at Pepperdine University, “but they’re never trained on how to deal with the customer.”
Recognize that field service training is about a lot more than just technical know-how. Today’s field technicians have critical new responsibilities when it comes to communication and building loyal customer experiences. “There are always two repairs to be done,” says Bleuel, “the equipment and the customer. And the customer’s more important.”
The takeaway: Put down your tools. Stop and listen to what your customer has to say.
Be Upfront — Don’t Fall Into the Excuse Trap
Waiting for a field technician who is running late is a major customer pet peeve. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a legitimate reason for the delay: field technicians are often overbooked, have trouble with their equipment or end up short-staffed.
The key here is to communicate with the customer as soon as you know you’re behind schedule — and to drop the excuses. “No excuses are good,” says Shep Hyken, a customer service expert and author of The Cult of the Customer. Instead, advises Hyken, be direct “and say something like ‘I’m overbooked and running late from the last job.'”
Everyone knows what it’s like to be behind schedule. They just want to know ahead of time.
Investigate the Issue — Ask Questions
Listening and asking questions are key to understanding the customer’s gripe — and offer a great opportunity to show that you care. Service techs are experts at what they do and their products; customer’s aren’t. “Let customers know you are there to help,” says Hyken. “Then ask (the customer) to go over the situation again. Ask open-ended questions and give feedback.”
Watch Your Words — Focus on the Positive
When faced with an angry customer, staying upbeat and positive may not be so easy. But remember, says customer-service expert Ron Kauffman, the key is to be part of the solution and not the problem. “Keep the vision of success alive in your team, and in your customers,” says Kauffman.
One way to be a peacemaker is to use “power phrases” that focus on the positive and convey that you’re ready to take action to keep the customer happy. “The customer’s not always right, but they’re always the customer,” says Hyken. “Instead of telling them what they did wrong, show them how to do it right. It’s all about how you position your words.”
Knowledge is Power — Show the Customer You Know Your Stuff
Customers can tell when a technician isn’t prepared. The know-how you’ve gleaned from past experiences is critical to putting an irate customer at ease — but so is your knowledge of new approaches to solving a particular problem or of a new product release. Keep abreast of the latest advances or product changes by reading industry trade journals and blogs and talking with peers. “Maybe someone found an easier approach to solving the problem,” says John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research for the Technology Services Industry Association.
Go the extra length to show your cranky customer that, while you may have been late or your equipment broke, you know exactly what you’re doing.