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“Be nice.” It’s the golden rule of service, yet so many customers still hang up from help calls feeling irate and frustrated.  What’s going on?

One thing might be the disconnect between two myths of customer relationship management that every well-meaning firm has been taught to further:

Myth #1: Be nice above everything else and the customer will be happy.

Shouldn’t you be nice to your customers? That depends on how you define it.  If you’re aiming for friendly, professional courtesy while addressing the customer’s issue, then yes.  If, on the other hand, you’re placing a greater importance on acting like the customer’s pal than on training problem solving skills, then you probably need to reconsider.  A flat, bored voice stating “I’m sorry to hear you’re having problems” isn’t fooling anyone, and is probably increasing anger and frustration if it isn’t closely accompanied by efficient problem resolution.

Myth #2: The customer is royalty who shouldn’t have to lift a finger.

How much of your advertising copy tells your customers to sit back and relax while you do everything for them?  How many of your products actually allow them to do that?  The reality these days is that most products and services require the active participation of users to install and/or make use of.

From fairy godmother to wilderness guide.

The reality of today’s product environment is that the “product” itself is a lot more than the widget you hold in your hands.  It includes the entire customer experience, from the product specs on the website through to the call center reps. The consequence is that even the most novice customer ends up being an active agent driving the product experience.  A magic wand won’t fix their problems.  As the ones doing the heavy lifting, your customers need active training, coaching and guidance.

So what can you do?

The following is a list of tried and true tactics that service reps can incorporate when interacting with customers. These are tactics that I’ve observed over and over that result in happy endings.  I’ve added excerpts from actual calls to give you a sense of how the tactics play out in practice.

  1. Actively guiding the customer through the use of preemptive explanations of how and why something works the way it does, as well as what action to take

    “Whenever that light isn’t solid green, it means it’s lost its connection to the signal. And probably your first best choice is to pull the power cord out for about a minute. And give the modem a couple of minutes to boot up and log back on. That should restore the service.”

  2. Alerting the customer that something is going to be unexpected or confusing

    “I’m going to give you a new password to enter. And it’s one of those nonsense ones, so listen real carefully…”

  3. Providing clear descriptions and visual cues when guiding customers through interfaces

    “So make sure you’re up where it’s that long white rectangular box where ‘address’ is to the left of it. It says ‘http [company].net’ right now.”

    Customer: “That’s what it says.”

  4. Verifying that the customer understands, and has precisely carried out, instructions

    “Do you want to read that back to me?”


Give it a try.  And as always, feel free to contact me if you’d like additional guidance of your own.