Proactive Customer Service Reduces Customer Service Fires

Customer Service Fires

Spending too much time putting out “customer service fires”? Proactive customer service is the solution.

Does your business spend a lot of time “putting out fires,” as in “customer service fires”?

Sure, putting out “customer service fires” is something all businesses do. Yet many businesses — yours, for example? — spend way too much time extinguishing “customer service fires.” Time that could be spent on cultivating — instead of consoling — your customers. The good news is that there is a solution: it’s called proactive customer service.

Why does this matter? In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, author Steven R. Covey talks about a time management grid. The time management grid prioritizes how you should spend your time on activities that advance your goals.

  • Urgent activities require your immediate attention, like putting out “customer service fires.”
  • Non-urgent activities require your attention, but not your immediate attention, like preventing “customer service fires.”

Covey says that the more time you spend on non-urgent activities, the less time you spend on urgent activities. Think of it this way:

  • Urgent activities are reactive.
  • Non-urgent activities are proactive.

In other words, putting out “customer service fires” is an urgent reactive activity, but preventing “customer service fires” is a non-urgent proactive activity. Simply put, the key to minimizing “customer service fires” is to spend more time in proactive customer service.

Here are three practical, yet simple, proactive customer service strategies.

Overcommunicate with Customers

Don’t just communicate with your customers — overcommunicate with them.

For example, overcommunicate:

  • Expectations — especially the boundaries of guarantees and promises.
  • Terms and conditions — especially the “fine print.”
  • Any information that customers might not understand — especially common misunderstandings.

Sharpen Customer Service Processes

Continuously refine your processes to provide a streamlined customer service experience. In other words, eliminate customer service bottlenecks.

Examples of common customer service bottlenecks include:

  • Bouncing customers from one department to another.
  • Failing to resolve customer service issues during the initial call.
  • Requiring front-line customer service team members to obtain special permission from managers.

Customer service processes that eliminate customer service bottlenecks tend to:

  • Streamline the customer service experience.
  • Prevent customers from having to call back.
  • Empower front-line customer service team members.

Train! And then train even more!

Ongoing training is also a a big part of proactive customer service. Without continuous training, even the most effective processes lose their potency.

Guess who does this the best? Think about it. Airline pilots and flight attendants receive intense training with respect to both “normal” (preventive) and “emergency” (reactive) procedures. And the training is continuous, not just sporadic.

Businesses that use a similar approach toward customer service tend to be customer service powerhouses because such businesses realize that training isn’t just for on-boarding new employees.

This sounds reasonable, you’re thinking, but how can your business create effective customer service processes? a linchpin of proactive customer service? That’s an excellent question, and in the future we’ll share some practical strategies that your business or organization can use to create effective customer service processes.

In the meantime, have a customerific week!

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How to Give Customers Room to “Save Face”

Granting customers sufficient room to “save face” is an important customer service strategy. Here’s some simple and practical strategies your business or organization can use.

Saving face. Each of us has heard the term, and – in all likelihood, at one time or another – each of us has taken advantage of an opportunity to “save face” in order to maintain some degree of dignity in a potentially embarrassing situation. Indeed, according to Psychology Today, the term “saving face” has been embedded in our vocabulary since at least the 19th century.

And that brings us to our topic this week: providing customers sufficient room to “save face” should be a core customer service strategy of your business or organization. Why? Because if we don’t grant customers enough room to “save face,” we place customers in a defensive posture, which often tarnishes the customer service experience.

For example, did you know that at Disney restaurants, a server will not correct a guest who mispronounces a menu item? The purpose of Disney’s practice is to avoid embarrassing the guest, especially in the presence of others. Additionally, the practice eliminates the risk of tainting an otherwise positive customer service experience.

Let’s think about this for a minute. One of the goals of a server at a restaurant is to make a generous tip. A server who “corrects” a customer who mispronounces a menu item risks embarrassing the customer, especially if the “correction” occurs in the presence of others. Simply put, a customer who feels embarrassed is less likely to leave a generous tip, which runs contrary to the server’s goal of maximizing tips.

Here are three common goals and accompanying example strategies that your business or organization can use to grant customers sufficient room to “save face.”

Getting Paid: Getting customers to pay us in a timely manner is an overarching goal of any business or organization.

  • Don’t Say: “You didn’t send us your payment.”
  • Do Say: “For some reason, we haven’t received the payment.”

When we tell a customer, “You didn’t send us your payment,” we trap the customer in a defensive position. Moreover, if the customer had actually sent us the payment, we risk calling the customer a “liar.”

By instead saying, “For some reason, we haven’t received the payment,” we focus on potential solutions to achieving our overarching goal, which is getting paid. True, a customer might not have actually sent us the payment; however, by avoiding an accusatory tone (“You didn’t send us your payment”), we maximize the chances of getting paid.

Troubleshooting: Troubleshooting customer issues is another goal of businesses and organizations.

  • Don’t Say: “Is your computer on?”
  • Do Say: “Let’s turn your computer off, and then back on.”

If we ask a customer whether his or her computer is on while attempting to troubleshoot an issue, we make the customer feel embarrassed – or even “stupid” – that the problem was because the computer was off.

By instead instructing the customer to turn the computer off and then back on, we provide room for the customer to “save face” if the computer was off. This way, the customer isn’t required to “confess” that his or her computer was off.

Customer Compliance: Encouraging customers to comply with our policies and rules is an issue that practically any business or organization experiences.

  • Don’t Say: “You shouldn’t be standing here! Don’t you see the yellow line?”
  • Do Say: “Would you mind standing over here on the other side of the yellow line? Our attorneys are so paranoid about safety, that they’ve made us put this ugly yellow line on our floor. You should have seen what they charged us for that!”

Notice how the first option places the customer in a defensive posture, which creates an adversarial relationship between us and our customer, i.e. “us” vs. “the customer.”

The second option, however, strategically injects some humor into the situation and redefines the adversary as “the attorneys,” i.e., “us” (which includes our customer) vs. “the attorneys.” In all likelihood, the customer will not only appreciate the humor, but will also comply with our request without feeling resentful.

This week, spend a few moments talking about specific strategies your business or organization could implement to ensure that it grants customers sufficient room to “save face.” By doing so, you’ll minimize the risk of making customers feel defensive, embarrassed, or resentful.

As always, have a customerific week!


Books about Customer Service: Our Top 5 Recommendations

Looking for interesting and engaging books about customer service to inspire you and your team? Here’s our top recommendations.

Every now and then, businesses and organizations solicit our advice in regards to books about customer service. Sometimes, it’s an individual at a business who wants to expand his or her knowledge about customer service strategies; other times, it’s a business leader who desires his or her team members to read and study a book to improve the organization’s customer service.

In either case, we’re pleased to do so. Indeed, we strongly believe that “readers are leaders.” Accordingly, we encourage leaders and their team members to engage in the practice of reading and studying books about customer service.

So what books about customer service do we recommend? Here’s a list of our top five recommendations, together with links and short summaries. Although the list isn’t exhaustive, it represents some of the best books about customer service that reveal simple and practical strategies that you and your team can learn and implement to produce measurable results in your business or organization.

The Customer Rules: The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service (Lee Cockerell)

If there’s anyone who knows customer service, it’s Lee Cockerell. In addition to possessing executive leadership experience at the Hilton and Marriott, Lee is the former Executive Vice President of the Walt Disney World Resort, a customer service powerhouse. His book shares proven customer service strategies that work. Moreover, it is an engaging read that lends itself to the perfect book to read, study, and implement.

Disney U: How Disney University Develops the World’s Most Engaged, Loyal, and Customer-Centric Employees (Doug Lipp)

Speaking of Disney, this book provides a deep, yet accessible and practical, insight about how Disney creates and maintains a culture that produces a consistent, high-quality customer service experience. Not only is the book interesting to read, but it also provides a “blueprint” that businesses and organizations may use to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

The Nordstrom Way to Customer Experience Excellence: Creating a Values-Driven Service Culture (Robert Spector and BreAnne O. Reeves)

Recently revised and updated, this book explores the relationship between employee engagement and the overall customer experience. Yes, external customer service is important, but so is internal customer service. Simply put, it’s not a coincidence that businesses and organizations that focus on internal customer service excel at external customer service. Why? Culture and core values are not mere abstract concepts, but rather provide a concrete foundation upon which businesses and organizations should be built.

The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company (Joseph A. Michelli)

This book discusses how the Ritz-Carlton, yet another customer service powerhouse, leverages employee empowerment, anticipates customer expectations, and implements continuous customer service training to produce a first-class customer service experience. The book is especially appropriate for leaders and emerging leaders who desire to learn more about creating, implementing, and improving organizational-wide customer service processes. Although the book focuses on the hospitality industry, its principles and practices can be applied to any business and organization.

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose (Tony Hsieh)

Zappos, an online shoe and clothing business led by Tony Hsieh, an exceptional and somewhat unconventional visionary, proves that even e-commerce organizations possess the ability to provide memorable customer service experiences. The book articulates the critical and pivotal role that organizational culture assumes in a business. Moreover, the book explores innovative practices – such as paying new employees $2,000 to quit – that have propelled Zappos into not only one of the best 25 organizations to work for, but also one of the world’s top-rated e-commerce businesses.

This week, consider selecting to read – either for yourself or as part of an organizational-wide initiative – one of the these books about customer service. We guarantee that you and your team will not only learn from, but also be inspired by, the customer service strategies discussed in any of those books about customer service.

As always, have a customerific week!


How to Identify your Customer Service Heroes

Does your business or organization have a process to identify your customer service heroes? If not, consider this brilliant, simple, and cost-effective strategy.

Several years ago, I attended a conference in Branson, Missouri. One of the “perks” included free admission to Silver Dollar City, a theme park that features a variety of rides, attractions, shopping, and dining. In fact, if you’re a fan of Undercover Boss, you might remember an early episode featuring Joel Manby, who was the president of Herschend Family Entertainment, which owns Silver Dollar City, among other entertainment properties in the United States.

While enjoying some ice cream during a warm fall afternoon, I sat on a shaded bench and watched a park employee on “broom and dustpan duty” interact with visitors. Although the park employee was an older gentleman, he exuded a tremendous amount of energy – all positive energy, by the way.

Using an exaggerated “hillbilly” voice, the park employee struck up a conversation with a child, whom he had laughing within seconds. Soon, the child’s mother and I joined in the laughter, despite my status as a mere bystander on a nearby bench.

And then I saw something interesting happen. The mom handed a wooden silver dollar to her son. She told her son to give it to the park employee. Her son then gave the silver dollar to the park employee, who said, “Well, thank you very much, young man. I’ll keep this forever!”

Once the child and his mom wandered away, I asked the park employee about the wooden silver dollar. The park employee explained that when visitors purchase their tickets and enter the park, a theme park representative randomly provides some visitors with a wooden silver dollar. Those visitors are asked to give the wooden silver dollar to a park employee who “made their day.” Then, during employee team meetings, park employees who receive wooden silver dollars from visitors are recognized for their customer service.

I asked the park employee how many wooden silver dollars he had received. He replied, “Quite a few,” which, based on my short observation, didn’t surprise me at all.

And that experience at Silver Dollar City sparks an important question: What process does your business or organization use to identify and recognize customer service heroes?

As leaders in our business or organization, we tend to assume that the key to cultivating a culture of customer service excellence consists of monetary rewards, such as bonuses, commissions, and incentive pay; however, although the value of monetary awards cannot be entirely dismissed, let’s not forget the power of non-monetary incentives, including the simple and cost-effective approach used by Silver Dollar City. By the way, Silver Dollar City also provides the ability to recognize park employees who have gone “above and beyond” via a website link.

This week, take a moment to think about and discuss the following:

  • Does our business or organization have an effective process in place to identify and recognize our very own customer service heroes?
  • If we don’t have such a process in place, what process can our business or organization create and implement, similar to the one used by Silver Dollar City?
  • If we have such a process in place, how effective is our process, and how can our business or organization improve it?

As always, have a customerific week!


Customer Service Empathy: Here’s How to Amp it Up

Amping up your customer service empathy will elevate your organization’s customer service from “good” to “great.”

Many of you have probably heard of the book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins, who researched the pivotal characteristics between “good” and “great” organizations. In other words, Collins theorized why some organizations are “great,” while others are merely “good” – if not mediocre (or worse).

Of course, an organization that is “great” is capable of regressing to “good.” Indeed, Collins’ subsequent book, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, unapologetically explains why some “great” organizations featured in his earlier book fell to “good.”

And Collins’ books sparked a thought: What factors differentiate “great” customer service from “good” customer service? Although several aspects are likely involved, one particular element appears to assume a crucial role.

Empathy, specifically, customer service empathy.

But what exactly is “empathy”? The Oxford Dictionary articulates the best definition of empathy: “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Accordingly, customer service empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of the customer.”

Great, you’re thinking, but how do we do that? That is, how can our business or organization “amp up” our customer service empathy?

Here are three simple strategies that will enhance your organization’s customer service empathy and, therefore, transform your customer service from “good” to “great.”

Focus on understanding – not just hearing – the customer. In customer service, it’s tempting to become “scripted,” which means that we tend to treat the customer in a “generic” – as opposed to a “genuine” – manner; that is, when communicating with a customer, we may superficially “go through the motions” rather than genuinely understand the customer. Genuinely understanding the customer means that we’re able to fully comprehend:

  • the customer’s particular issue; and
  • the customer’s feelings.

Needless to say, genuinely understanding the customer requires us to focus exclusively on the customer and nothing else: in other words, no multitasking!

Reflect the customer’s feelings. Each customer with whom we communicate is experiencing feelings, whether positive, negative, or ambivalent. A core component of empathy is the ability not only to identify the customer’s feelings, but also to reflect those feelings back to the customer. For example, “I know it’s frustrating that we didn’t get your order to you on time” or “You have every right to be angry about our billing error.”

You’ll find that reflecting the customer’s feelings will typically deescalate an angry or upset customer, resulting in lower stress levels for you and your customer.

Paraphrase the Customer’s Issue. Paraphrasing the customer’s issue has two important benefits: first, it conveys that you are listening, and, second, it ensures that there are no misunderstandings. For example, “So even though our website advertised the product for $14.99, you received an invoice for $19.99. Is that correct?” or “Yes, we can give you a call before arriving at your home.  You want us to call you at (712) 555-5555 at least 30 minutes before, right?”

This week, “amp up” your organization’s empathy factor by implementing these practical strategies. By doing so, your business will transform its customer service from “good” to “great” while simultaneously differentiating itself from competitors.

As always, have a “customerific” week!


Customer Misperceptions: 3 Unfortunate Scenarios

Does your business or organization inadvertently create customer misperceptions of poor or mediocre customer service?

A few weeks ago, my wife and I visited a local franchise to order food to take home. When we entered the restaurant, we took our place in line behind two other customers. My wife knew the customer directly in front of us, who remarked that she had been waiting a long time. Indeed, there was only one worker behind the counter.

It then became clear why the customer ahead of us sounded frustrated: one of the booths in the public seating area was occupied by an employee who sat, doing nothing, while watching her coworker – the one and only employee behind the counter – struggling to prepare multiple orders on his own.

A few minutes later, more customers entered the restaurant, and the line lengthened. Meanwhile, the employee sat idly in the booth, watching her co-worker, who started becoming flustered and making mistakes.

When it was our turn to place our order, the worker behind the counter apologized profusely for the delay. At that time, the employee sitting in the booth stood up, walked behind the counter, and asked her overwhelmed co-worker, “What am I going to do with you?” Appearing embarrassed, the worker replied, “I don’t know. I’m pretty busy.”

Once my wife and I received our food and returned to the car, we expressed disbelief about the experience. I opined that the employee sitting in the booth was probably on break, while my wife thought that the employee was “just plain lazy.” It turned out that we were both wrong: we later discovered that the employee sitting in the booth was waiting to begin her shift.

And that brings me to my point. In customer service, perception is reality; in other words, the perception of customers matters, and it matters a lot. This means that businesses and organizations should train their employees to minimize the risk of inadvertently “sending the wrong message” to customers – that is, unintentionally creating customer misperceptions.

Here are three common situations that have the potential of creating customer misperceptions of mediocre or poor customer service.

Employees on Break or Waiting to Begin their Shifts. An employee who is on break or who is otherwise waiting to begin his or her shift should do so outside the presence of customers; otherwise, customers might mistakenly assume that an employee standing or sitting around “doing nothing” is “lazy.” In fact, your business or organization should have a well-defined process that identifies discreet locations for an employee to take his or her break or to wait for his or her shift to begin. Moreover, the process should be flexible enough to allow an employee to begin his or her shift early during especially busy times.

Employees Engaging in Irrelevant Conversations. Remember the scene in the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles wherein the rental car customer service agent is on the phone with her relative talking about Thanksgiving dinner while her customers wait in line? If you don’t, watch the first 30 seconds of the following YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsrXZ_Mdehw. Even though an employee might consider a conversation or a remark to be important to him or her (or to his or her coworker), remember that the key is how a customer – particularly a customer standing in line waiting for service – will perceive the conversation or remark. Simply put, an employee should conduct an “offline” conversation with a coworker or someone else outside the presence of customers.

e the presence of customers.

Employees on their Smartphones. An employee on his or her smartphone is never viewed favorably by customers, even though the employee might have a compelling reason to do so. If it is necessary for an employee to use his or her smartphone during work, he or she should do so outside the presence of customers; otherwise, customers might assume the employee is “playing around” on Snapchat or Facebook when he or she should be working.

During your next team meeting, invest a few moments discussing how customers might misperceive employee actions – regardless of how well-intended those actions might be – and address strategies to minimize the risks of customer misperceptions.

As always, have a “customerific” week!


Avoid these 3 Costly Customer Service Penalties

Unless you want to “turnover” your customers to the competition, avoid these three common customer service penalties.

It’s Super Bowl time again, and although I’m not a huge fan of professional football (I prefer college and high school football), the annual event nevertheless sparked some thought about penalties – not football penalties, but rather customer service penalties. Indeed, customer service penalties, like football penalties, can prove costly to your business or organization.

So let’s review three of the most common customer service penalties and, even more importantly, let’s explore how your business or organization can avoid or, at the very least, minimize those penalties.

Roughing the Customer: “Roughing the Customer” occurs when we are curt or rude to a customer. A cardinal rule of customer service is to treat customers with professionalism and respect – or, as Lee Cockerell advocates, “Be so nice to the customers that they can’t believe it!” – even if customers are rude or disrespectful to us. Simply put, never lose control with customers.

Use this twofold strategy to avoid “Roughing the Customer”:

  • First, if a customer is particularly rude or insulting, remember that there is probably something else happening in the customer’s life, so grant the customer some generous leeway to vent.
  • Second, treat the challenge as a game: if the customer later apologizes to you for his or her rude behavior, score yourself a point. Remember, though, that the only way to “win” the challenge is to not lose control with the customer – that is, be sure to keep your emotions and patience “in check.”

Holding:There are three variations of “Holding”:

  • First, requiring customers to spend an unreasonable amount of time on hold. As hold time increases, customer frustration grows exponentially, ultimately resulting in customers hanging up and calling your competition.
  • Second, requiring customers to enter a long series of numbers on their telephone in order to talk with a customer service representative. Despite the popularity of automated phone trees, customers typically find the technology infuriating, especially if they desire to talk directly with a human.
  • Third, abruptly placing customers on hold. When customers are placed on hold in an abrupt manner, they perceive your business or organization as impatient and uncaring.

To avoid “Holding,” ensure that your telephone lines are sufficiently staffed. During particularly busy times, your executive leaders – yes, I’m talking to the directors and managers out there – should help answer telephone calls. If your business or organization uses automated phone tree technology, offer a simple and obvious option for a customer to quickly connect with a customer service representative. Finally, before placing a customer on hold, explain to the customer the reason for placing him or her on hold, and also obtain the customer’s express permission to do so.

Delay of Game: “Delay of Game” occurs when we fail to follow through with, or deliver our products or services to, a customer in a timely manner. “Delay of Game” may originate from a variety of causes, including, for example:

  • neglecting to follow through with a customer;
  • losing or misplacing a customer’s order or request; or
  • failing to sufficiently communicate – or, as Tom Peters says, “over-communicate” – with a customer in regards to the status of his or her order or request.

To avoid “Delay of Game,” ensure that your business or organization has reliable and effective processes in place to minimize the risk of neglected follow through, misplaced customer orders, and delayed communications. Your customer service processes should specifically address common contingencies, including employees who are absent due to illness or vacation, technology glitches and failures, and other vulnerabilities and bottlenecks that could result in customer service delays.

This week, take a moment to accurately assess how frequently your business or organization commits these and other customer service penalties, and then dedicate some time to not only train your team, but also to create or modify your processes, to minimize those penalties.


Customer Emotional Satisfaction: This is what it looks like.

This true and inspiring customer service story evidences the benefits of striving for emotional satisfaction, not just rational satisfaction.

During customer service training sessions with businesses, I consistently emphasize the importance of striving for not only rational customer satisfaction, but also emotional customer satisfaction. This is because, as I previously wrote, rationally satisfied customers are just as likely to abandon your organization as dissatisfied customers. In other words, emotionally satisfied customers will exhibit the most loyalty to your business and brand, which translates into increased customer retention.

But what does emotional satisfaction “look like”?

Take a moment to watch this true story about a customer who lost a diamond from her wedding ring while shopping at Nordstrom. I promise that the three-minute video is well worth your time; indeed, you’ll probably want to share the video with your team this week.

So what makes this customer service story so impactful? Three critical factors, all of which contribute to emotional satisfaction:

  • “Above and Beyond” Attitude: In order to create emotionally satisfied customers, your business must be willing to “go the extra mile” (or two) for each and every customer each and every time: not just on Fridays, not just when it’s convenient for your organization, and not just for loyalty-card customers, but rather all of the time for everyone, including prospective customers.
  • Aligned Customer Service Culture: One of the most striking aspects of this story is that employees from different departments – for example, the general manager, the loss-prevention manager, and two custodians – personally committed themselves to searching for, and ultimately finding, the diamond. The loss-prevention manager roamed the floor on his hands and knees, and the two custodians rummaged through vacuum bags full of dust and dirt to find the diamond. At no point did any employee voice any objection, i.e. “That’s not my job!”
  • Obsession with Customer Service and the Customer Experience: Near the end of the video, the customer makes an astute observation about Nordstrom employees: “I don’t care what their job is, they all make a difference in the customer experience.”  And customer experience is the key to emotional satisfaction. Why? Because customers will always remember the way your organization makes them feel, and inspiring customers to make them feel genuinely and individually valued leads to emotionally satisfied customers.

This week, consider sharing this video with your team members and discussing the benefits of an “above and beyond” attitude, an aligned customer service culture, and the role that customer experience plays in emotional satisfaction.

In the meantime, have a “customerific” week!


7 Phrases to Help you Gain Customer Compliance

These seven phrases will help you gain customer compliance without ruffling your customers’ feathers.

A few weeks ago, we focused on customer compliance. Businesses and organizations routinely need their customers to comply with various rules, processes, or policies. Even customer service powerhouses – such as Disney and Southwest Airlines – require customer compliance, particularly in regards to protecting customer safety and economic interests.

Indeed, merely because a business or organization needs to gain customer compliance does not make it “anti-customer service.” That being said, there are “right” and “wrong” ways to gain customer compliance.

As you’ll recall, Dr. George J. Thompson identified seven overly confrontational phrases that are often – and unfortunately – used to gain compliance. These phrases, which are discussed in Dr. Thompson’s book, Verbal Judo: The Art of Gentle Persuasion, include:

  • “What’s your problem?”
  • “Be more reasonable!”
  • “I’m not going to tell you again!”
  • “Hey, you! Come here!”
  • “Calm down!”
  • “What do you want me to do about it?”
  • “Because those are the rules!”

So, in order to gain customer compliance, what should your business or organization say instead? Here are Dr. Thompson’s suggestions.

“What’s your problem?”: Instead, say, “I can see that you’re really upset [or angry or frustrated]. How can I help you?” Asking an angry, upset, or frustrated customer how you can help him or her avoids making the customer defensive by shifting the conversation to potential solutions.

“Be more reasonable!”: Instead, say, “Alright, let me see if I understand what you’re saying. You’re saying that you shouldn’t need to _____. Did I understand that right?” Paraphrasing a customer’s request, even if the request appears unreasonable, conveys to the customer that you are listening, which is a crucial step toward resolving an issue.

“I’m not going to tell you again!”: Instead, say, “Please do me a small favor and listen carefully to the point I’m going to make because it’s really important.” Many times, a customer is so upset that he or she isn’t listening as carefully as he or she should. Patience, together with polite repetition, is the key.

“Hey, you! Come here!”: Instead, say, “Can we talk for just a second?” This strategy substitutes a question in place of an outright command. A customer will more likely respond to a reasonable question instead of a military-style order.

“Calm down!”: Instead, in an empathetic tone say, “What’s the matter?”, “What’s wrong?”, or “How can I help?” Telling a customer to “calm down” rarely works; indeed, it often inflames the customer even more.

“What do you want me to do about it?”: Instead, say, “Have you thought about _____?” In other words, offer an alternative that is available to the customer: the more alternatives, the better. Better yet, determine how you can actually “partner” with the customer to resolve an issue, even if the issue is “out of the control” of your business or organization.

“Because those are the rules!”: Instead, say, “The purpose of this rule is to _____. In other words, explain the purpose – that is, the “why” behind – the rule. A customer is more likely to comply with a rule if he or she understands the “why.” Keep in mind, though, that compelling circumstances might warrant an exception to the rule.

If you want to see a short video demonstrating these alternative phrases, consider watching DTM Security’s Tip of the Week, which shows how the foregoing examples apply within the security industry. That being said, these strategies will work for any business or organization, including yours.

Meanwhile, we hope your new year is off to a “customerific” start!


Need Customer Compliance? Avoid these Phrases!

In order to gain customer compliance without creating unnecessary conflict, avoid these confrontational phrases.

Earlier this year while standing in the TSA security line at Orlando International Airport, my family and I witnessed two distinct approaches to gaining customer compliance: one effective, and the other horribly counterproductive.

That summer morning, the airport security lines were overwhelmed with passengers. As our line inched forward, a TSA agent shouted curt commands to passengers. The TSA agent’s demeanor become a topic of discussion in our line, as many of us mumbled comments such as “How rude!” and “Can you believe this guy?” Some passengers even began mimicking the agent. It was obvious that the TSA agent’s authoritarian strategy to gain customer compliance was alienating passengers.

And then something amazing happened. Another TSA agent approached our portion of the line and asked – yes asked – if we would be willing to walk a short distance to another security line. A unison of “Yes!” erupted from the group of passengers, so the TSA agent replied, “Thank you. Just follow me.” And we did.

The second line, although not necessarily faster, was friendlier: the TSA agents didn’t yell, and instead of barking commands like a sergeant at boot camp, they actually asked passengers to comply with the screening rules: for example, “Say, would you mind removing the laptop from your bag so we can screen it?” as opposed to “Didn’t you see the sign? Take your computer out of your bag!”

The starkly different approach used in the second line actually made passengers want to comply with the tedious TSA screening processes. Although both security lines had to gain customer compliance, the first line relied on a confrontational – as opposed to a gently persuasive – strategy.

Indeed, as Dr. George J. Thompson explains in his book Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion, gentle persuasiveness is the key to gaining compliance. Even though the book’s primary audience is law enforcement officers, businesses and organizations like yours can use Dr. Thompson’s strategies to gain customer compliance without creating unnecessary conflict.

With that in mind, here are seven all-too-common confrontational phrases that your business or organization should avoid if it desires to gain compliance without needlessly angering customers:

  • “What’s your problem?”
  • “Be more reasonable!”
  • “I’m not going to tell you again!”
  • “Hey, you! Come here!”
  • “Calm down!”
  • “What do you want me to do about it?”
  • “Because those are the rules!”

Wonderful, you’re thinking, but what should we say instead? Stay tuned. Next week, we’ll offer alternative – that is, “gently persuasive” – phrases to use in place of these particularly confrontational commands.

In the meantime, consider reading Dr. Thompson’s book, and, as always, have a “customerific” week!