Let your customer vent their frustrations first, advises Sharon Nielsen, account manager at One Prospect Technologies. "Most people, once they have vented their frustrations and felt heard, calm down on their own and become more willing to listen to your suggested resolutions, or provide feedback with suggestions of their own," she says.
Your customer is screaming, or worse, quietly seething. What is the best way for you to respond? Several seasoned IT professionals recently shared their best tips with CompTIA.
"Avoid irate customers to begin with."
That's the first tip from Matthew Rydzfski, partner in the managed IT service provider PremierePC Technology Group in Greenville, S.C. "Our whole business revolves around this simple premise." The company is constantly tweaking its business model and ticketing process to remove any "obstacles" to its customer relationships, he says. Matt Watkins, CEO of Modern Tech Squad LLC in Bonifay, Fla., adds, "Managing expectations and communication are the biggest keys to keeping people calm and avoiding confrontations and problems."
Let the customer have his or her say.
"Just let the customer vent, meanwhile you stay cool, calm and collected," advises Watkins. Sharon Nielsen, account manager at One Prospect Technologies, a technology services company in Crandon, Wis., explains that, "Most people, once they have vented their frustrations and felt heard, calm down on their own and become more willing to listen to your suggested resolutions, or provide feedback with suggestions of their own."
Use the power of "Thank you" and "I'm sorry."
"Thank the client for bringing the issue to your attention, and apologize, even if it's only for the fact that they are unhappy or frustrated," suggests Jeff Mason, vice president of marketing for the online chat vendor Velaro.
Ask good questions.
Ask follow-up questions — even simple ones like, "Are any other systems not working?" or "Can you get online?" — to understand the scope and impact of a customer's IT problem. "The reported problem isn't always the real problem," says Rydzfski. "Sometimes it's just the symptom of the problem."
"I have no problem saying, 'We screwed up' if we made mistakes," says Rydzfski. "That kind of honesty leads to goodwill later."
Work toward a resolution.
As CEO, Watkins will say to an unhappy customer: "If we did not do what we said we'd do, what can we do to make you happy?" He explains, "Even if I have to eat a little profit (to resolve the issue), it's worth it because that person is more likely to recommend my business to others."
But few customer service representatives have the authority to let an unhappy customer set the terms of the resolution. Still, Velaro's Mason says, "You have to find some resolution that's fair to both parties and be able to offer that up."
IT service companies need to authorize staff to do whatever it takes to get problems resolved, including speaking with upper management to get any needed approvals," Rydzfski says.
Don't Make Stuff Up.
If you can't answer a customer's question, admit what you don't know, but promise to get the information in a reasonable amount of time. Then do exactly what you say you will do. "When you lie to the customer, on the phone or in person, it's always going to come back to bite you," warns Rydzfski.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
Explain to the customer exactly what you are doing to resolve their problem and why. Then keep that communication chain going for as long as it takes to fix it. Most customers "just want to know what's going on," says Rydzfski. "If you fail to update them, you are setting yourself up for more conflict."
For One Prospect, proactive communication smoothed the bumps in a large project that involved months of testing, re-planning, and change orders. "We made regular phone calls and emails to keep the customer updated, whether the news was good or bad," says One Prospect Account Supervisor Amy Olejniczak. That communication campaign "allowed us to build the customer's trust."
Keep A Positive Attitude.
Take breaks to relax and relieve any tension and to avoid negative attitudes toward customers. Rydzfski only allows his employees to internally describe difficult customers as "special" — no derogatory terms allowed. "If you shout, 'That guy is so SPECIAL!' we know exactly what you are talking about, and we can all laugh." But, he notes, "Overall our customer scores have gone up continually since we worked on that."
A week after resolving a complaint, Watkins will follow up to see if a customer is satisfied. "If they are happy, I just let them go on their merry way."
Following up with an ex-customer has merit, too, contends Rydzfski. He presented an ex-customer with information about the failures PremierePC identified in handling the ex-customer's problem and the internal changes the company instituted to prevent such problems from happening again. That information, delivered in tandem with an apology, "kept the dialogue open," says Rydzfski.
Follow the same rules on social media platforms.
The same basic rules of customer service apply even if the irate customer broadcasts his complaint via social media, says Mason. "Be patient, be respectful, show you care," says Mason, adding that a customer's angry post on your company's Facebook page is an opportunity to develop a positive brand. "People respect the fact that you are willing to take criticism, resolve customer's problems and have an open conversation about it," he says. "That's the qualities people seek out in business."