Today, I experienced the worst customer service EVER. Happy Monday to me.
If you have ever experienced horrible customer service, congratulations. You are being gifted a golden opportunity as an entrepreneur. The worse, the better. Know why? Because you will know how NOT to ever treat your own customers… ever!
Does anyone ever believe the spin? Nope.
Somewhere along the line a lot of businesses started this practice of using a lot of nice words to either say nothing, avoid difficult interactions or deliver bad news. Fluff, abstract, decorative words strung together are thought by some to be a strategic way of communicating with customers without having to actually take care of them. But, as the recipient, doesn’t it just piss you off to be spoken to like that? It frustrates me to the bone (thus, inspiring this post. Grrrr…). It makes me feel dismissed, like the business thinks I’m stupid.
Has this ever happened to you?
A service I use for my business stopped working properly over a week ago. When I reached out to their customer service chat, I got a message back which seemed suspiciously like spin to me, “We appreciate your patience as we look into this matter. We’ll let you know as soon as we hear back from our technical team.”
I waited. It was a Friday, and by Tuesday the next week still hadn’t heard. I sent back another chat asking for an update. Already, I’m starting to get frustrated. As someone in the industry of customer service and technology information, I didn’t like having to be the one to chase after them.
I didn’t hear back from them until the next day. This time, from a different person, “Rest assured, Kat is aware of your concerns and will respond as quickly as possible.” But, nothing related to my initial concern.
Over a week has passed, and I am still receiving spin responses. Needless to say, I’m now pissed. Worse, I’m anxious because I depend on this service for my business. I need to know simply if I should wait for the remedy to fix itself, or if I need to find a substitute solution.
This company went about this entire process ALL WRONG. Instead of making an ally out of me, they’ve lost my business!
Here are five basic things to avoid – and their remedy – when offering customer service to your customers.
1. Don’t offer chat support if you can’t chat.
Don’t make your customers sit there impatiently wondering if you are there or not. Does anyone like waiting? Nope.
Chat implies instant, live support within seconds. It’s totally fine if you can’t provide this feature on your website, but don’t suggest you can. I feel tricked when I click on a chat icon, take the time to enter in my question and info, only to be told “We typically respond within 1-2 hours. In the meantime you might like these knowledge base articles.” Aaargh! That isn’t chat… that is email, and now I feel lied to.
Don’t do me like that.
Provide a contact method that works for you. A contact form on your website is totally fine!
Tell your customers exactly when they will hear from you, and then keep your word. “We check messages regularly M-F during standard office hours. If this is an emergency, please email X or call Y.” or even the “chat” message above would be fine on a regular contact form, “We’ve received your note! You can expect to hear from us within 1-2 hours during business hours, otherwise by first thing the next business day. Thank you!”
2. Don’t overly automate your responses. Get human really fast.
Autoresponders are fine, especially when used to acknowledge or confirm a message has been received. They work well to let us know the contact form submission has gone through or our payment has been completed. But, that is where their purpose should end, in my opinion. When autoresponders replace ongoing customer service communication – when they replace engagement – they stop being affective.
I’m not talking about thoughtful automated customer journeys and trigger systems (i.e. abandoned cart email or subscription renewal reminders), which can be used appropriately as tools within the world of marketing. I’m referring to customer service response bots, and the need for a business to honestly convey how much – or how little – these messages will interact with a human being.
Be honest, be clear, have respect for your customer and don’t try to disguise your autoresponder so much that you are trying to make me think you are a person!
The key is to use an autoresponder to qualify a lead or to answer the most basic of questions. It is NOT to substitute customer engagement or answer a specific question that deserves a custom response. You can create a beautiful knowledge base, blog, online course, video archives, etc. to accomplish the same objective. This takes care of your customers so they don’t feel foolish and deceived, and they will actually appreciate and respect the delivery of information.
3. Don’t use fluffy language to spin. Identify your customer’s pain point and empathize fully.
It’s tempting to use creative language in marketing. We’re taught to convey emotion, manipulate desire, drive the conversation. But, when it comes to customer service and support, especially when there is a problem, simple language is always the best language.
Here’s an example of fluff: “At X Company, we strive for you to have the very best customer experience, and we regret to hear you are not experiencing the level of quality you want. Rest assured, we are here to do our best to provide you with the answers you need. We will get back to you as soon as we know more.”
What does that even mean? “Sorry you’re upset, we’ll get to you when we can, but no promises as to when that may be.”
The moment something isn’t working, or a customer isn’t happy, anxiety enters the equation. Or worse, panic and fear. Trying to put a coat of paint on panic and fear only makes it worse, doesn’t it?
The best thing you can do – even if it’s hard – is to empathize, use plain language and keep your answers short, accurate and frequent.
Here’s the response I’d like to receive:
“I’m so sorry. This is not acceptable and you have every reason to be upset. I’ve notified our technician already and he’s working on it right now. He’s promised to let me know the status every X (duration of time that is the truth). I will personally get this resolved for you, no matter what, and I will contact you within the next X (duration of time that is the truth) to update you of the status. What is the best way to reach you?”
Fluff is not polite, and polite is not fluff.
PRO TIP: By asking, “What is the best way to reach you?” you allow the customer to feel heard, respond with some direction (which empowers them and makes them feel they are doing something helpful), and this diffuses their anger just a bit. Then you can respond quickly that you have received and will follow their instruction.
4. Don’t put off bad news. Keep your customer informed.
I’ve made some big mistakes over the years. Every successful business has. There’s nothing worse than realizing you’ve caused a customer a real problem and it’s just going to take some time to fix. My hands shake, I break into a cold sweat, I can’t think of anything else until I know everything is ok again.
You know this is true… how many celebrities or politicians have been caught, and we always say the best and only remedy is to tell the fast, hard truth. Get it over with.
Customers are human. We forgive and we oftentimes appreciate humility. I’ve converted angry customers into my greatest advocates by taking a deep breath, telling them the bad news in full, and being brave enough to stick it out until we fix the problem together.
Then, you have the added opportunity to win over a customer with extra uber customer service, a gift, a reward, a pleasant surprise. Send them flowers with a thank you note. Give them a free year or a free upgrade. They deserve it, and it will feel good to give.
5. Don’t prevent us from leaving. Be willing to put the customer’s needs above your own.
If you’ve done your best to handle a situation with an angry customer and they still want to leave…. by all means, LET THEM.
Don’t be selfish. If you can’t offer the goods, be honest and help your customer do what’s best for them, even if that is to leave you for a competitor.
There is nothing worse than trying to hold onto an angry customer by telling them they can’t break a cancellation policy, in the face of you not delivering the quality they expected. Why do that to yourself? Not only do you risk them becoming even more angry, they might even tell their friends how unhappy they are with you. Bad juju equals a bad reputation that lingers.
Instead, let them go with a full heart. Make it easy, maybe even pleasantly assist them. Keep it friendly, send them off with love and grace. Thank them for their feedback – learn from it – and look for a way to have them feel good about the departure. You might even be surprised by earning their respect and their return later.
You want my loyalty? Earn it. Cut out the B.S. and I’ll be yours forever.
Shit happens. Systems break. Technology can be fickle. Humans can make terrible mistakes which cause big huge problems.
As a customer, all I care about is getting the truth so I can manage my business with the facts at my disposal. I’m willing to be patient to a point, and I expect to be treated with respect and dignity by my vendors. If a business can no longer provide a service to me, I expect them to tell me this and help me make the necessary adjustments.
This is how we all want to be treated, so we better friggin’ be sure we treat our own customers this way. Check your support systems. Do an integrity audit and make sure you aren’t spinning anything you shouldn’t. Marketing language is a spice to enhance the flavor of truth, not a disguise to hide behind.