Customer Experience News & Trends

Why customers don’t ask for help when they should

Remember that last disaster a customer brought to you? If only he’d asked for help sooner, you could’ve prevented it, right?! Here’s why customers don’t ask for help when they should – and how you can get them to speak up sooner. 

You’d think customers would ask for help the moment they need it. After all, that’s exactly why you have “customer service.”

“We should be creating a culture of help-seeking,” says Vanessa K. Bohns, an associate professor of Organizational Behavior at the ILR School at Cornell University, in her recent research. “But comfortably and confidently asking for help requires refuting a number of misperceptions that have been uncovered.”

Customers often let some myths cloud their judgment when it comes to asking for help. (In fact, your colleagues, friends and family members do it, too, for that matter.)

Here are the three biggest myths about asking for help – and how you can dispel them for customers so they get help before a little issue turns into a big – or unfixable – one:

1. ‘I’ll look like an idiot’

Customers often think that asking for help makes them look bad. After they’ve engaged in the sales process, researching, asking intelligent questions, possibly negotiating and using your product, they feel empowered. Then they can’t figure out something they feel they should understand, and they’re afraid they’ll appear to incompetent.

Research proves otherwise: One study found people who asked for help were perceived as more competent – likely because others respect someone who recognizes an issue and the best way to overcome it.

What to do: Give customers an easy pass to asking for help early in the relationship. When they purchase, say, “A lot of customers have mentioned they had a little trouble with X. Call me, and I’ll walk you through it.” Also, check in on them, asking, “What issues have you run into with X?” Or, “How can I help you with Y?”

2. ‘They’ll say no’

Customers also fear they’ll be rejected when they ask for help (or for any special request). Maybe not an outright, “No, I won’t help,” but they fear something like, “We can’t do that” or “That’s not something we take care of” or “It’s not under your warranty.”

So they try a workaround or they stop using your product or service – then stop buying, and worse, start telling other people not to buy from you.

Again, research proves otherwise, Bohns found: People are more willing to help – and help to an extreme – than others realize. Of course, in customer service, you’re uber-willing to help.

What to do: Give customers every avenue possible to troubleshoot and problem-solve. Remind customers on every communication channel – email, invoices, social media, website landing pages, FAQs, marketing materiel, etc. – the different ways to get help, making a call to a customer service expert the easiest solution.

3. ‘I’m being a bother’

Surprisingly, some customers think that their call for help is a nuisance, and the person who helps them resents it. They might feel they’re imposing, and the effort to help them is inconvenient or excessive for “such a little problem.”

Even worse, they may have that “imposing impression” because they had a previous experience when they asked for help and were treated with indifference.

Of course, research proves this wrong again: Most people – and surely customer service professionals – tend to get a “warm glow” from helping others. It feels good to be good.

What to do: Emphasize your desire to help in every contact with customers so they never feel put off by contacting you. End interactions with, “I am so glad I could help.” “It’s been a pleasure helping you.” “I love to help customers with things like this.” As long as you’re sincere, customers will feel good for asking.

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