Dealing with Stressed Customers on the Support Line

Gone are the days when a common response to a technical support call is “are you sure that your computer is plugged in?”  Dynamics Partner support teams are now faced with a myriad of complex questions that require an understanding of networks, communications, databases and functional areas like accounting, sales and marketing.  But perhaps the biggest challenge of all is the human factor.  The people at the other end of the phone line are rarely happy, sometimes abusive and often stressed.   Certain times are worse than others – month end, year end and first thing in the morning (they were working late trying to get things done, were foiled and then built up a head of steam all night!)

There are some steps and techniques that can assist customer support people in managing stressed customers over the phone – no matter what the time of day or nature of the incident.

1. Listen carefully to the problem

As obvious as this seems, customer support people don’t always take the time to listen to the customer and fully understand the problem.  Inevitably you have heard the problem before (or one that sounds just like it) and, given your helpful nature, want to immediately jump to solving the problem.  This is counterproductive for two reasons.  First, you might be wrong in your diagnosis.  Second, even if you made the correct diagnosis, the customer may feel that their issue is unique and requires a thorough explanation.  Depriving them of the opportunity to provide this (and vent) is likely to frustrate them.

If you have a stressed customer on the line – there are some techniques you can use to enable you to simultaneously understand the problem, de-stress the customer and set yourself up to resolve the incident in a mutually satisfactory manner.

LISTEN to the customers description of the incident. Don’t interrupt them.  If you have questions about what they are telling you, save them until they have completed their narrative.

CONFIRM that you heard their description of their problem by restating it back to them.  Maintain a neutral tone.  Do not get defensive no matter how accusatory the client is.  Once you have confirmed that you accurately heard the problem, ask the customer to fill in any details that you need to understand.

EMPATHIZE with the customer by indicating how you can imagine the inconvenience that the incident caused them.  This will serve to calm a stressed out customer.  Don’t apologize.  You are still in the process of understanding the problem, not solving it.   It definitely isn’t your fault and it may or may not be the result of anything that has been done by your company.

Implementing these techniques is likely to have a calming effect on the customer and may even help you get to the root of the problem.  A placated customer is more likely to suggest that a user might have done something to create the problem.

2. Discuss Potential Resolutions

This step is more difficult than the first (which is really just good listening, after all).   The process you will go through depends on the nature of the problem, if the problem is easily resolved, if it requires sending a consultant out on site, if it is going to cost the customer extra fees, and on any number of other factors.    There are, however, a few techniques to remember no matter what the incident and final resolution are.

Firstly, DO NOT place blame.  Particularly on the customer.  The last thing a stressed customer wants to hear is that they or another user created their own problem.   In some cases they may acknowledge it, but there is little benefit to anyone of dwelling on it.

Secondly, DO NOT deflect responsibility.  A customer does not want to hear that the problem is due to malfunctioning hardware or an ISV software product that is the responsibility of some other company. They have called you and expect your company to resolve the problem.

Thirdly, AVOID inflammatory language. Inflammatory language either places blame or is just plain irritating.  An example of inflammatory language might be:  “Yergunnahafta reimport the prospect list”.  This could just as easily be substituted with “It sounds like the prospect file got corrupted during the import process.  Would you be able to send me the file first and I’ll check to see if there are any anomalies in the format.  If not, I think it is worth trying the import again.”

3. Solve the Problem Promptly & FOLLOW UP

Whatever the solution to the incident is, try to resolve it as quickly as possible.  And, most important, follow up with the customer to ensure that the problem was fixed.   This is usually an enjoyable step often missed by customer support people as they get barraged with the next round of problems.   This is unfortunate, as you may be missing out on a well deserved pat on the back!

– Software Delivered as Promised. No Surprises.

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George Brown

Insight written by George Brown

Senior Vice President at Rand Group

A thought leader and pioneer in the areas of cloud computing, sales and marketing, George is a highly regarded subject matter expert and leader with over 30 years’ experience in strategically propelling businesses forward.

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