In customer support, you’re bound to have difficult customer conversations. Often, people get confused, have bad days, and things go wrong. However, difficult, disgruntled, and dissatisfied customers aren’t necessarily a reflection of how well your company is run because people are, well, humans.
Often, difficult customer conversations result from miscommunications and misaligned expectations. Regardless, knowing how to communicate effectively and pass knowledge down to your customer service team so that they navigate through the muddy waters is crucial if you want your business to thrive. Especially today when it only takes a few clicks to shame a brand publicly. But, stats show that even if only 4% of consumers complain to businesses, up to 13% of those unhappy customers will tell 15 other people or more about their negative experiences. While these numbers aren’t high, you don’t want to lose customers, right?
The point is, whether a client is coming in frustrated because you’re out of stock of the product they want or they want to request a feature your product doesn’t have, they’re unhappy with your products or services.
Fortunately, with a bit of help from these proven conflict resolution strategies, you can create a win-win situation for your team and customers. Or at least avoid angry reviews and tweets.
How to Handle Difficult Conversations with Customers
Everything is rolling according to plan. Your products are getting to your clients on time.
Your clients make their payments on time, and there are no complaints. The relationship between your brand and customers couldn’t be any stronger.
Then, something out of the ordinary happens. For example, a delayed product shipment may cause your customers to miss deadlines. A salesperson promises more than you can deliver. Or a customer discovers a product defect.
We all know that setbacks occur in business. But, unfortunately, they can strain the relationship between you and your customers, cause anger and mistrust, and end profitable relationships.
When tension occurs between your brand and a client, it’s time to have difficult conversations. A time to clear the air and address the issues causing tension. However, how do you prevent a tough conversation from becoming a full-blown argument that permanently hurts the relationship with your customers?
Here are five tips that can get you through the tough conversations that can make or break your company.
1. Humble Yourself
When a customer complains about a faulty product, it’s tempting to refute your active participation. For instance, if a customer support ticket gets mishandled, it’s tempting to blame the technology or other factors outside your control. Stop that, be humble, and take responsibility when you do something wrong.
Apologizing shows customers you take responsibility for the situation. It shows you want to learn from your mistakes and that your relationship with them is important enough to humble yourself and be vulnerable.
Here’s an example of how you can apply this in your daily operations: suppose you give a customer incorrect information or information unrelated to what they need. Then, when they contact you back, instead of saying, “Sorry for the miscommunication,” say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t read through your customer support ticket as fully as I should have, and I may have missed that point.” Then, offer them a new answer.
Humbling yourself helps your business, your customers, and your employees. So, don’t be afraid to humble yourself by admitting when you’re wrong and apologizing for your mistakes. This will ease the tension between you and your customers, ultimately helping to move forward the tough conversations.
2. Create a Learning Experience
Conversations often go wrong when you try to get someone to adopt your approach or view. When your purpose is to make a customer see things from your point of view, they’re likely to resist—and arguing with customers hinders learning, sending the conversation into a ditch.
No matter how knowledgeable and well-spoken your team is, they can’t understand problems without knowing how customers see those problems.
Consciously creating a learning experience can help you and your team gain the insight you need to move the difficult conversation forward. First, loosen your grip on your perspective (at least temporarily) so you can create room to see things from your customer’s perspectives. To do this, you need to adopt the mental trick of being a neutral and objective third party witnessing the tough conversation. From this mental perch, you won’t be trying to convince, and you won’t have the urge to defend your perspective. Also, you won’t feel invested on either side, so you can accurately see how the customer is communicating and create an opportunity to learn from what the customer is saying.
3. Communicate Expectations Upfront
The goal is to communicate all expectations upfront and keep everything real. Not doing this is how business relationships turn sour. Instead, have meaningful conversations with your customers from Day One, and continue doing that to maintain expectations.
4. Listen Before Solving
Listening is crucial because, more often than not, you only get a snippet of a client’s problem when they reach out to you before you speak to them.
Before you solve an issue, let the customer air everything out. Your job at this moment is to say nothing at all but learn everything possible about the matter from the customer’s point of view.
Every customer wants their complaints to be heard and taken care of. So, the best thing you can do is to offer them attention and show them you value what they have to say.
However, research shows that we only recall 25 to 50% of what we hear, which is why active listening is an effective practice to enforce when dealing with tough customer conversations. Some valuable techniques of active listening are:
- Pay attention to what the customer is saying. For example, when the customer is sharing their issue, look at them directly if the conversation is in-person and avoid preparing your answer ahead of time. Instead, let the customer know they have your full attention.
- Be conscious of your body language. A simple smile, nod, and eye contact can make a significant difference. It’s pretty clear when a person isn’t paying attention.
Once you’ve listened to what the customer has to say, tell them you’re sorry. Although owning up to the problem might not undo the situation, it can certainly create trust and ease the tension. Further, if you’re unsure what they mean, ask specific questions.
Finally, let the customer know you want to help them but need additional information before doing so effectively. In the best-case scenario, your willingness to listen to them and eagerness to help them in any way possible can slowly move them from the dissatisfied state.
5. Leave Your Attitude Outside
Often, when a person is impatient, condescending, yelling, or even unintentionally rude, the first instinct is to interject and give them a piece of your mind. But in a professional setup, such as a business, you can’t do that. So responding to your initial instinct without listening or thinking isn’t often the best path to take.
Instead of acting on instinct, take time to acknowledge the customer’s assumptions. That’s because impact doesn’t always mean intent.
So, if a customer is constantly confronting you in writing or keeps complaining and cringing when you speak, try to mirror their assumptions or discreetly adjust yours to meet them somewhere in the middle. Often, when you’re careful with your words, the customer will notice and automatically attempt to do the same.
Try to see things from their point of view and be ready to listen to their side of things. Think about how you and your staff may have contributed to the problem. How does the customer perceive this situation?
Thus, when handling difficult customer conversations, check your attitude at the door and understand that you must resolve customer problems. That doesn’t mean that the customer is always right, but don’t forget they’re human too, and when you act on instinct or have a negative attitude, it’ll only derail the difficult conversation. So, to avoid a hostile situation, take deep breaths and be ready to listen to their story.
Leverage Zight (formerly CloudApp) to Provide Better Customer Support Experiences
Zight (formerly CloudApp) is perfect if you’re looking to deliver better visual communications—the customer support tool offers a native experience with a GIF creator, webcam recorder, and screen recorder. These tools help customer support teams transform how they answer customer questions and provide them with responses quickly, improving productivity. For example, your team can respond promptly to customers by directing confused customers to the FAQ section with screenshots and written explanations, or embedding how-to GIFs in emails.
To learn how to close customer support tickets faster, visit our customer support page.