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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!

Mark