Delivering an experience

That first interaction with a barista can set the tone for the rest of your day. Walking into my local coffee shop and realizing my usual barista, the one who knows all my quirks isn’t on shift is definitely a nightmare. “She had some days off or something”, they told me. The person who filled her spot on the interim was a huge NO NO. He was rude to other customers, got our orders wrong and gave us one hell of a bad experience. As I stood there, holding my subpar coffee and cold croissant, missing that energetic rush of getting my order right and starting my day on the right foot (Monday, of all days), got me thinking: in an industry, like the one I work in, how important is the experience a customer gets? What is the best tone to use in your emails when you write to customers? How about phone calls or chats? Should you be chirpy or business-like? Should you use complete phrases or just fragments?

Well the answer to that is: it all depends. One of the most common complaints outsourcing companies receive is; how scripted or “robotic” a support team might sound.

Getting it right

“I go by my own SAFE rule: Sympathize, Apologize, be Friendly and Explain. We know the customer is not always right, but they are NEVER wrong. By making support easier for them and by removing obstacles you can consequently reduce the customer’s efforts to have their problem solved. We can exceed their expectations, even if the answer or solution is not ideal or what they expected.”Marisia Janssen

Casual vs. formal

Should your emails, chats or even phone calls be like they were written or spoken by an English gentleman wearing a tweed suit or by a Game of Thrones fan wearing a t-shirt and a Cubs cap?

Well it all depends on who is your customer base. You have to take into consideration to whom your product/service is being provided to.

Be straightforward and have a clear manner. Customers prefer a casual tone over a formal one when it comes to customer support, but there’s a catch: that preference shifts when they are being denied of a request or service (The famous: “I’ll take this to your manager”). Adapting your tone is a must depending on the situation, by being too informal, using slang or emoticons might be considered to be extremely casual. Also, avoid sounding like a “smarty pants” even when they’re coming to you for guidance.

Bottom line is, users much prefer it when we give straight answers rather than embellished ones. When they realize that you are actually there to help and not to make their experience problematic… you must show you are empathetic to their situation and that you are doing everything you can to improve their experience and not the other way around.

How to handle upset customers?

“Try to tackle the issues with effective solutions.” -Julio Batres

First gauge what is the thing that’s bothering them the most, and tackle their emotional issues as well as solving the technical ones. Sometimes solving what caused the problem doesn’t necessarily make them forget how they’re feeling at the time — It’s important to acknowledge where they are coming from instead of dismissing their feelings just because you might be able to provide an easy solution.

Customers are human, just like us. You are just as likely to encounter someone who needs to vent as you are to encounter someone who will provide a thorough report of what’s happening. Asking probing questions is definitely the safe approach as in most cases, an angry user won’t give necessary details for identifying an issue, instead of choosing to let you know that they are upset in as much detail as possible. However, in some instances they will thoroughly describe the circumstances surrounding their issue, which may allow us to identify it without needing troubleshooting questions. Most of the time this information may be limited, but it is worth a shot to try to provide an immediate solution if you believe you know what may be happening on their end.

An alternative to this involves recurring issues as well. An upset user will email you about an issue they’re having, which is one you’ve been seeing lately. In those cases, you will likely have an immediate solution which they will highly appreciate.

What should be avoided?

“Misinforming the customer and jumping the gun with assumptions on their case.” — David Hernandez
  • Lack of context in addressing issues. Users are more likely to test things with you if you tell them why you need to ask more questions or sharing your thought process on why you might need them to follow steps.
  • Snarky expressions like: “As I told you before”, “like I told you on my previous email”, or “I’m sorry you feel this way”. Or just anything that can come off as negative, even when you didn’t mean it that way.
  • Condescension. Rudeness is extremely easy to avoid (Don’t be a jerk. Ta-da!), and lack of knowledge about the product or service would mean you wouldn’t be in the team in the first place. Condescension however is the big trap. Essentially, you have far more knowledge about it than the user in every regard. If done without care, this can quickly evolve into talking down to them.
  • Taking it personally. Always treat your customers as you’d like to be treated, (for example: don’t leave them hanging, don’t promise anything you can’t deliver, don’t be indifferent, don’t lie to cover up an issue, don’t serve awful coffee, etc.)
  • Giving the wrong information. Know your product/service, giving the customer wrong information will only worsen an escalated situation, making both your own and your customers experience, that more disheartening.
  • Over-apologizing. You’re here to help. If someone has had a poor experience, it’s definitely ok to empathize with their situation. But apologizing too much becomes sounds insincere and minimizes your role as a person’s helpful guide through a tricky situation. Remember, you’re in this together.
  • Reading back the terms of service. Telling a customer that they agreed to something while they’re in the middle of trying to find a resolution will only further anger them. Our role is to help them get to the right answer within the guidelines of the agreement or terms of service, not to use it as a shield.

Using the correct tone with the right customer is vital in the outsourcing business. First impression can sometimes be the only impression you’ll get the chance to have with a customer. It’s essential that you get it right. A bad experience with someone replacing your usual barista, most likely won’t change your mind about your local coffee shop, but a continuous one might. Don’t you agree?

Special thanks to all the Heroes that contributed to this piece.

Luis Hernandez Blanco