Client-facing personnel have to answer a lot of questions; sometimes they are hard questions, especially when they are about money, when the client needs to take action to provide you with something your team needs, or if there is a particular point of contention that needs to be addressed.
In these situations it can be hard to stay cool when on the phone, but fortunately, there are a ton of methods of handling potentially awkward client situations.
Information is King
Information is one of the most helpful tools your customer-facing elements can offer. It can inform, reduce confusion, and help your clients make the best decisions they can. So you should make sure your client-facing elements have it, understand it, and can impart it out to your customers well.
Confused clients are rarely happy: customers want to know what is going on with their stuff, when they are getting it, and how it’s going to help them. It might seem super obvious, but lack of up-to-date information is a very common problem that prevents your client-facing elements from completing their jobs to the best of their ability. And that has a big impact on your customer service abilities. As Donald W. Blohowiak mentioned in his book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Great Customer Service, your reps might be afraid of seeming unknowledgable when asking questions internally. Or they may not want to be a bother, or not have a go-to person to ask to be the most up-to-date.
Sometimes you client services will have to ask/answer some touchy questions, like “When can we expect your payment?” or “Your order can’t go through because XYZ are out of stock”. These questions or statements are hard for your customer service representatives; they might even draw straws to see who gets to deal with the tough ones. Empowering them with information before they get on the phone will help them make great word choices.
For example, could they offer a 5% discount for early/ auto-payments? That would help your company’s cash flow and give your customers information about how they can avoid these awkward interactions. Perhaps your online site has the most up-to-date stock (where as a magazine order might be out by the time it gets to you). You can get your customers around tough questions if they know what they want and how they can help, and if you know what sort of concessions to make, and when it’s time to get off or transfer the call.
When To Get Off The Line
There are times when your customer is being inappropriate, when you can’t help them anymore; when it is time to get off the line. This customer has already moved through your initial customer service representative at this point, and is talking to a supervisor or manager, which means you’ve already gone past the point of easy loyalty. There’s plenty of reasons your customers might be upset (your company isn’t flawless). They might have ordered something and it’s taking awhile, their refund didn’t get processed quickly enough, or maybe they want a refund that you can’t give them. There are a few things to consider before hanging up with a customer:
- Are you losing or gaining money on this account?
- Will the reparations turn the relationship into a monetary loss?
- Are they hurting your company?
- Can you actually help them?
- Did you mess up?
If your company is clearly the one that messed up, and you can make it better for them (they are a long-term customer, or partnered with another long term customer), you should help them in any way possible. But every now and a great while, you get someone who you can’t help, who is frustrated, who is not moving the conversation forward. There are three options that are great to use when actually hanging up on someone:
- Put the phone down. If they are in the middle of a rant that you’ve already heard, let them run it out without your ear so you can pick up and continue with that superb customer service attitude (calm, smooth, as helpful as possible).
- Tell them that their communication style makes it hard for you to understand, and ask if they can call back when they are a little less heated.
- Tell them that you have exhausted all the resources available to you, but are going to try and bring their problems up when the department head is free. Follow up with “May I call you after that conversation in case there is more I can do?”. This way you can try to change policy for them. It’s a last ditch resort if you REALLY want to help them.
I Need This!
Oh….. No, You want This.
There are a lot of things your customers may try to get from you that you cannot offer to them. Offering such customers alternatives will help your customer service representatives meet their demands. You may not be able to offer them what they want, but you may be able to solve their issues. Perhaps they want free shipping; you can’t offer free shipping based on the way your system works or is marked, but you can offer a discount equivalent to free shipping. That might be something a customer calling for free shipping would be interested in.
Alternative solutions is a great way to make your customers happy when you can’t give them exactly what they want. It could be something even better than what they want.
Client services has to deal with really hard questions. Sometimes they have to call and ask hard questions. Upsetting your customers is never fun. Empowering your customer service representatives with enough information to know what is going on and offer alternative solutions will save them a ton of grief. But sometimes, you have to close the book on a client and realize what they are asking for is neither reasonable or good for your company. Taking steps to avoid such things is important, but knowing when to tell someone that you cannot help them will preserve your client service’s sanity and your bottom line.