By: Brett Goldberg
The cornerstone motto of customer service has forever been, “The customer is always right.” Those of you who have worked in the field know this is untrue: The customer is not always right. But to earn a positive business reputation, it’s better to treat them as if they are. With the advancement of technology and e-commerce business trends, the customer has become more empowered than ever. These advancements—consequential to the already complex role of customer support—demand a more educated team to handle its daily stresses. But even with qualified customer support, businesses still encounter difficult situations.
Establish Customer Service Parameters
Being a business owner for a few years, I’ve found that customers are becoming significantly less satisfied with generic solutions. We can no longer direct customers to the frequently asked questions page they neglected to read or spout a “tough luck” response without pushback. Customers will often request that we break our longstanding rules to accommodate their mistakes.
We try to side with our fans 99 percent of the time, but not every situation is workable. In our business, because customers make transactions with each other, righting one side of the situation often means wronging the other. So, when dealing with the type of customer who doesn’t agree with our company rules and requires meeting them more than halfway, it’s important to maintain integrity and establish customer service parameters for the long run.
If we’ve done something wrong on our end, we provide a full refund and a promo code for future use. When customers are at all unhappy with their experience, we’re willing to forfeit our 10 percent commission on the transaction. If, at the venue, customers run into problems, we work up until the event time to right the situation. These few yet strict parameters have gotten us through hundreds of seemingly unworkable situations. In most cases, our team can lean on these guidelines to provide consistent and attentive service.
Nonetheless, customers expect more tailored approaches to their problems, believing businesses can afford to make exceptions without realizing how many customers are desirous of the same “special treatment.” When customers feel they are being cared for, they advocate for businesses. But if they aren’t, they use the power of social media at their disposal.
Create Checks and Balances for Social Media
Social media is both a blessing and a curse. For as much positive publicity that your company elicits, the customer is in the real driver’s seat when it comes to public brand perception. When someone directs a comment to us on social media, we handle it like we do emails. Responding to customer concerns via social media has been an effective way to show how fast and attentive our customer support is. Since social media is an open channel for the whole world to see, we respond to all of the customer comments we receive.
Despite our efforts to amend all situations peacefully and tactfully, we’ve had customers threaten to blast us on Twitter, write scathing Google reviews, or simply “tell everyone they know” to steer clear of our business. Because we’re still paving a reputation in this industry, we don’t take these threats lightly. When customers try to wield this power, it’s in your best interest to maintain a level head and hope they won’t cross the line. Our customer service agents first tackle situations individually, but if they feel exhausted by a customer, they will pass them onto another agent for further guidance and perspective, creating a checks-and-balances type of system. Support for each other helps us achieve an end and provides customers the opportunity to take a breather between one agent and the next. With power spread out amongst a team, customers can be assured they’re being handled with rationale and care.
Keep Customers in Their Comfort Zones
Most customers prefer one method of communication. If a customer contacts us on Twitter, they likely want communication contained to Twitter. If they engage in email correspondence, they may not warm up to the idea of a phone call. We’ve had customers completely shut down during phone calls because they didn’t expect to communicate with us verbally. If a customer service agent can’t reach a virtual understanding and wishes to switch methods of communication, they should first seek the customer’s permission. Most customers reach out in the ways they are comfortable with; they should never feel caught off guard. After watching our customer service agents further complicate situations by surprising customers, it seems keeping customers in their comfort zones is the best thing to do, even if they’re in the wrong.
Take Care of Your Employees, Too
With an educated customer support team, we can more carefully walk the fine line between serving our customers’ needs and being trampled by those who try to take advantage of us. We strive to side with the fans who have given our small company a chance and believe in what we do. Above all, I believe companies have to treat customers as human beings. But at the same time, if your employees are being treated as extensions of the company rather than people, should you give a courtesy that might not be returned?
Ninety-nine percent of the time, yes. But as a boss, you have the responsibility of making sure your employees are being spoken for and feel supported by the company they work so hard to represent. When a customer in the wrong comes our way and crosses the line, despite all efforts to defuse the situation, I feel it’s better to take care of our customer service agents who wrestle that fine line every day. Because, when it comes down to it, human decency isn’t something you are entitled to; it’s something you give in order to deserve.
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Brett Goldberg is Co-CEO and Co-founder of TickPick, a technology company focused on improving fans’ lives by providing them access to cheaper tickets and by creating products and services that simplify the consumer experience.