Customer Experience News & Trends

The 6 best ways to get bad customer experiences back on track

Something has gone wrong, and what was a perfectly good customer experience is spiraling toward bad. Can you get it back on track? Here’s help to rebound in almost any tough situation. 

When customers contact you with a problem, you probably recognize some tension and know to get into recovery mode quickly.

But some situations slowly go sour, and the rebound has to be handled differently so the good experience gone bad ends better.

“Despite our best intentions, conversations frequently veer into difficult territory, producing frustration, resentment and wasted time and effort,” says executive coach and management professor Monique Valcour, whose research recently appeared in the Harvard Business Review.

Valcour offered several solid ways to stop difficult interactions from spiraling out of control. They included:

1. Shift from opposition to partnership

Conversations can turn contentious when a fact or opinion is disputed — and then customers and service pros line up like opponents.

That’s when people working with customers in tough conversations want to reposition themselves as partners focused on the same problem, not opponents focused on their respective sides of the problem.

One way: Mentally see yourself coming around to the same side of the table to work together. If you’re actually with a customer, physically get on the same side.

2. Reframe from convincing to learning

Situations often get bad when one person tries to get another to adopt his or her view. When you push the way you see things, customers will likely resist and get frustrated.

A better approach: Try to understand more, convince less. Front-line pros want to shift into “learning mode” when they and customers don’t see eye-to-eye. Ask more questions to get a better understanding of customers’ situations and feelings. Once you show you’re interested in knowing more — and convincing less — customers will also likely be more open to a different perspective.

3. Say what you intend

Conversations get messy and unproductive because people get bogged down in trying to make their point or counterpoint — and they end up losing sight of what they really want.

If you’re transparent, and tell customers exactly what you want to achieve by the end of the interaction, you’ll likely keep the experience on track.

For instance, “I’d like both of us to get our concerns about this on the table so we’re both confident we aren’t missing anything before we start to get it resolved.” Then ask customers what they’d like to get out of the conversation.

4. Avoid assumptions

In difficult conversations, people often believe they know what’s going on in the other person’s mind. For instance, a customer service pro dealing with an upset customer might think, “He just wants a better deal and doesn’t care how much extra work it will cause us,” or “She’s so focused on being right, she can’t see the big picture here.”

Assumptions can limit customer service pros from being 100% effective because they won’t fully understand the situation and will narrow the range of solutions to consider.

Use these words often to limit assumptions, “When you say …, what exactly do you mean?”

5. Acknowledge your part

Customer service pros often have vivid proof of something customers have wrong — documentation of an invalid date, inconsistent request or missed order. So it might be easy to identify where customers have gone wrong, making it harder to identify your contribution to the issue at hand.

Whether you can identify what went wrong and how you contributed to it or not matters less than taking some responsibility for the escalating situation. Say something like this when things get off track: “I might have misunderstood you about … Let’s go over that again,” or “I could have this wrong. Why don’t we start over to get us on the same page?”

6. Ask for input

People naturally want to protect their self-image, so getting input outside of what they think is right doesn’t come easily. But in an escalating customer situation, feedback could be the saving grace.

Avoid digging into what’s happened in the past — such as, “You always order at the last minute,” or “You’ve complained about the same thing and know we can’t change it.” Instead, focus on what you want to learn and how you can use that information to get the situation set right.

Say, “What can I do to get us to the solution you’d like to see?”

You might find out what customers want isn’t any different, or far from, what you can easily do.

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