The never ending story of customer care – When you just don’t agree


call_centerOnce again the customer dance with the personnel at the daily ball of arguing, bargaining and haggling trying to get to an agreement once again. The frustration is enormous and the customer and the company representative are miles away from each other almost trying to produce an intergalactic conversation in their own language. A solution seems impossible and the employee feels frustrated of the customer not recognizing great customer care if it is thrown at him. The customer on the other planet it frustrated by the pebbles he is offered and feels that he is treated unfairly.

Why is the conception of customer care so different?
It is all about anticipation. The customers have certain anticipations. They expect to be treated fairly*, they expect to feel special*, they expect to be right*, they expect to get help*, they want to get the problem solved*, they want compensation* and they want to talk to qualified people*.

* No, you do not get to decide what this is, the customer decide what is right, what the company can do to help and what it takes to make them feel special. This is your challenge. If you opt an opinion on what is the correct amount of compensation, if you think that fixing a problem within a day is good, you might be wrong. It might not be what the customer is expecting.

Some of the time I hear customers and my call center employees disagree, and all of a sudden the customer ask to speak with me. Why did they not manage to agree? This is something that I have been wondering about for a long time and this is an ongoing challenge. Well speaking to me won’t always necessary solve the problem either! And no, I am not going to blame the customers.

The problem is created by failed modifications of expectations. So to create the correct expectations we need to be totally honest (almost). Do not promise what cannot be kept. We will have it fixed by tomorrow is very provocative if the problem is solved in two days. If a problem takes five days to fix, tell the customer it takes six days to fix the problem. He might be pissed at the bad news, but on day five he would be happy. Get the happy feeling to arrive at the end. If you promise one day, the happy feeling comes at first, and the angry feeling comes on day two, the insane feeling on day four.

Customers do react negatively if the first message is that it takes long, it’s difficult, and it demands extra effort for the customer and so on. So do disappoint them right up! How long does it take to be served at this restaurant? 20 minutes! – “What?! Are you mad?” and when the food arrives ten minutes later, she will be thrilled feeling special, and amazed. I have dined at a restaurant with two stars in the Michelin Guide ordering a five course meal, eating a seven course meal, as the chef held two special surprises “just for us”. We felt like royalty. I think you know what I mean? Normally this problem takes five days, but I shall see if I can push it forward to three days, if that is ok by you? (The best thing is if you already know that this problem is solved in two days.) It is all about setting the expectations at a level that you can jump.

Avoid NO – NO is a NO NO!

  • No, I am sorry, this won’t be fixed today, it will take four days
  • I am sorry, this will be solved within five days, but if it is ok by you I will spend an extra two minutes to see if I can fix it in four days?
  • No we do not have Coca Cola!
  • We do have Pepsi if that is ok by you?

I bet that you know by these examples why NO is a NO NO!

Have I failed in providing great customer care lately?
I have had two customers lately that I decided would get the very best of me. I worked extra hard, found all the problems, forged an excellent e-mail response with a great overview of the problems and a financial superb plan with compensation and refunds. I even managed to give the largest refund possible in this matter. Thinking the customer will thank me now – this is GREAT customer care I thought. I have been haggling for four days on one case and for three days on the other. I gave it all, what went wrong? Well I thought I knew what the customer would experience as great customer care. Failing to know that customer might want to haggle. They might want the little extra. I had nothing more to offer. I offered it all at once. But the customer did not know that. And this is one of the most challenging moments in great customer care. You have done your very best, and still it is not good enough. I personally believe that we should do our best all the time, but the few incidents these last days might change my mind. But I should not hold back either, maybe it is my communication skills that is not good enough? I have been thinking a lot about this and have found out that customers hate being treated according to company policies or according to a contract. But I can use it in communication to create the right expectations. What about: I have done my very best sir, according to company policies and your contract this qualifies to a $100 refund, but in this particular case I feel I need to bend the rules a bit and offer you $150 in refund. (Your limit is $200) – Either the customer is happy or he wants more. If he wants more: I am not allowed to break the company policy so I need to check with my supervisor. Please hold the line for a moment. (Get a glass of water and get back) Sir I am happy to say I managed to get it up to $200. If the customer is still unhappy – respond: I understand sir, but this is my final offer. I think it is sad to not give it my best at the first shot, but I think it might be a tactical and smarter move?

Unreasonable people
A certain % of all people in the world are unreasonable, and you will meet customers that you can not in any possible way make happy. This tactics won’t work on them. It will work on normal people that expect a little extra. This will give you more happy customers. What do you do with the few that just never seem to agree? Get them to join the competition and let them spend time arguing with them. It is a win win situation for you.

I am still not sure if my thoughts provided here are any good but my biggest challenge after years in customer care is to solve the problems where customers disagree with my solution and we can’t seem to possible agree, resulting in the customer being unhappy. Am I the problem? Is the customer unreasonable? How can I get the “unreasonable” customer to see that their demands cannot possible be met, and still retain a happy customer? I would love to get your opinion on this topic

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3 Comments on "The never ending story of customer care – When you just don’t agree"

  1. Frode Heimen | July 28, 2009 at 4:16 pm |

    Hi Kyle, Welcome back.
    Good Advice, I think I will try to connect in that matter. Maybe we should comment on all our efforts first, before making the offer? Anyhow, this is very interesting, and how to get out of a locked position is a very useful skill.

    @Clement – Thank you for reading and commenting. I also experience that they come back, and I have even heard: “I cannot leave you, I am banned at your competitor…” Today we had a customer unsatisfied with our handling time, deciding to take his business to the competition, only to realize that the competition use four times the amount of time to solve the same problem. He called us back, appologized and told us to fix it…

  2. Clement Geferts | July 25, 2009 at 9:04 pm |

    I don’t think that the problem is you reading your blog i think your someone who rates customer serrvice higher.

    I also have years of experience in customer service and you have a lot of customers who just wnat to get the last drip of water out of the bucket if you understand what i mean. Even if you give them more then they deserve they just want more. Those are the people who want to make abuse of the situation.

    And i agree that is a win win of you let that little percentage of people go to the competition. I have experienced that even those people come back because they know youre good ( thats if your good lol )

  3. Howdy Frode,

    I think that you have alot of excellent advice here, and the tactic of holding back just a little bit in order to allow yourself room to make sure that hagglers stay happy is an acceptable tactic in my opinion.

    I do have a question though. When you are not able to offer any more, and they still demand more, have you had success trying to connect on a personal level about the time and effort that you have put into their individual case? As “Sir, I have spent the last three days pouring over your file, your contract, and all of the relevant information, but I just cannot get your refund any higher. I have tried everything within the customer service department’s power to get your refund higher but it is an impossbility.”

    I may have not phrased it the best, but have you used something similar to get across that you “really did” try your best and literally cannot offer anything more? More importantly, if you have, does it work?


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