Customer Service Pitfalls Part 3

March 20, 2012

The Official Merchant Services Blog finishes its titanic trilogy on the affect Customer Service can have on a business. In our first blog we discussed anecdotal evidence and how it pertains to the perception of service and what can be learned from those anecdotes. In our second blog we took at look at the numbers, examining charts of data to determine a measured impact that customer service has on a business. The combination of strong anecdotal evidence and detailed charts demonstrated how integral quality customer service can be to a business’ financial success. Today we’re going to delve into the tips that get offered regarding inferior customer service — both tips on how customers can deal with customer service they find lacking and tips on how businesses can improve customer service that their customers find lacking.

I got onto this topic recently because of an online discussion that suggested that customers weren’t worth the effort of listening to their complaints. That discussion was sparked from  The story of Jennifer Hepler found on The Mary Sue. It brought up the concept of gamer entitlement and video game customers going too far in their negative complaints to video game developers. Added to that was this Forbes article about The Myth of Gamer Entitlement. This really created a framework where customer complaints were presented as too much hassle for game companies to listen to. So the game companies would place customer service extremely low on their priority list.

Host Merchant Services blog image for customer service.

I really have issues with that concept. It makes no sense to me. Customers and quality customer service are extremely valuable to long-term business. So I set about to prove how valuable customer service can be for a business. After seeing the anecdotal evidence and the numerical data stack up, it’s quite clear that quality customer service has an impact on a business’ bottom line. Good customer service helps retain customers. Happy customers also give a business good word of mouth advertising — the most powerful and effective advertising a business can receive. Good customer service leads to high customer loyalty. High customer loyalty gives your business higher sales and a stronger brand identity.

What to do if all is not Well?

So let’s bring this back around to what started me on this line of thinking: Difficult Customers. The strategy that some video game companies are using to “deal” with the difficult customers was to launch a bit of an online campaign through gaming sites and other avenues to paint those difficult customers as unreasonable, and set the company up as a victim of their irrationality. From what I’ve seen and read of that option, the negativity has simply bred more negativity. Making the customers even more difficult and a lot of bad word of mouth has started to seep into the reputation of the company hurting their brand. So instead of creating an antagonistic atmosphere with difficult customers, I did a little research and found some tips and advice on how to deal with difficult customers and turn it into a positive.

Merchant Services image on Bad Customer Service

The Customer’s Side

To get a handle on difficult customers I think it’s important to understand the perspective of the customer. This article by Mind Your Decisionsis amazing at giving us insight into that perspective — and it gives consumers a series of tips on how to get the service they desire from bad customer service situations. It hinges on the premise that for customers to get what they want from a business’ customer service department, their strategy should be reasonably unreasonable. It states that being reasonable with bad customer service usually leads to the customer not getting what they want as they let the business continue to ignore their issue. It then states that being unreasonable with bad customer service also misses the mark as making a ruckus may get you what you want, but may leave you feeling like you made a mountain out of a molehill. So it advocates a strategy of being reasonably unreasonable: Holding firm, continually going after what it is you want from the company but not raising a ruckus while you follow that path. The article is focused on giving customers advice on how to get businesses to respond to your desire for customer service: “When dealing with bad service, one of the easiest ways to be reasonably unreasonable is to explain you are a frequent customer and that you would like a full cash refund. Cash, unlike in-store discounts, can be used at competitors. This small request quickly gets the attention of managers who scramble to keep you happy. You may end up accepting an in-store discount, but it will likely be much larger because you started asking for cash.”

Articles like this are important to be aware of when you’re planning  your own customer service protocols. You find again and again that the advice offered to consumers is to not back down. To continue to push for service. To be difficult. Sure, there are always going to be a tiny selection of customers that are the exceptions to the rule — ones that are difficult to be difficult, ones that thrive off of confrontation, and ones that simply want to try and take advantage of your customer service to get something for nothing. But these are the rare exceptions. Most of the time you are dealing with a customer that feels like they got a defective product or did not get the value of their purchase. They are seeking some sort of compensation, some understanding and some assistance. And because they feel justified in their crusade, they are going to feel entitled to service. They aren’t the unreasonable villains that the “gamer entitlement” tag suggests they are.

Host Merchant Services image on customer service, with bell ringing.

The moral of this story is a customer that wants a refund can be difficult about it. But can be turned back into a loyal customer if they receive understanding and compensation. It doesn’t even have to be in the form of a refund. But ignoring them or antagonizing them is only going to do more damage to your business and its reputation than the refund is usually worth. Most difficult customers aren’t that difficult once you initiate customer service that actually addresses their issues and their concerns.

Customer Service Tips

This article from Customer Service Manager offers five tips for dealing positively with difficult customers. Those five tips all hinge on engaging the customer’s emotions. As the article states in its conclusion: “Make no mistake about it; customers, be they internal or external, are primarily driven by their emotions. It’s therefore important to use human responses in any interaction particularly when a customer is upset or angry. If customers like you and feel that you care, then they’re more likely to accept what you say and forgive your mistakes.”

The tips break down to:

  • Have a thick skin. Be aware the customer is going to be angry and upset and don’t let that get to you.
  • Listen. Listen to what they have to say.
  • Don’t use the word sorry. Sorry, the article says is overused and has little impact with difficult customers.
  • Show empathy. The customer is upset and empathy will help mollify their anger.
  • Build a rapport. While empathizing with the customer opens the door for you, building a rapport gets you to your destination — customer service.

Host Merchant Services blog image on customer service and help desk analysis.

Most other lists I’ve found on how to deal with difficult customers breaks down to a similar set of tips. The important tips that I repeatedly ran into were all a variation on listening to the customer, showing them understanding and not letting their anger get to you. It all comes back to giving the customer your time, your ear and your energy. Giving them the attention they need to service them and address their issues. You do this and most of the customer service complaints you get are defused. You turn many of these customers into loyal fans of your business who will turn around and spread the news that you give excellent service. You attract more business and build a reputation for your business.

For me, the bottom line of customer service is this: There’s no such thing as gamer entitlement. Those gamers are customers who purchased your product and they are entitled to quality customer service. If you run a video game company you should beat the pants off of your competitors by being one that gives quality customer service. You’ll set yourself apart from the ones that are painting their own customers as the villains and themselves as the victim of a group of people who simply want what they paid for.

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