Take The Focus OFF Your Customers

    July 23, 2003

Through all our customer service training – whether formal or informal – we’ve been taught that we need to put the focus on our customers. Everything should be about them. All aspects of the service experience should center around the customer.

There is one instance when this realm of thinking does not hold true.

How many of us have faced a situation where we had the unpleasant duty of offering bad news to a customer? How often does it happen that you must explain the customer is at fault? Too many times to count. The challenge has always been to get through the ordeal without losing the customer. This is the time to take the focus OFF them and put it on yourself or the product or anywhere else.

Let’s set up a scenario. A customer, who previously purchased an expensive home voice mail system from you, calls for some help with programming. They claim the
system is not operating properly. They also claim they have done everything the way it should be done to no avail.

After asking a few questions, in order to troubleshoot the problem, you discover the customer has not programmed the system correctly. The difficulty, in fact, is due to the customer’s actions. Without causing the customer hard feelings, how do you (a) solve the customer’s problem and (b) explain that in order to prevent the occurrence from happening again, they must perform the steps differently?

Here’s a suggestion. “I think I’ve found the trouble, Sarah. Before the main greeting was re-recorded, the original greeting needed to be erased. That’s why I’m hearing a few garbled words at the end of the message. Those manuals can be hard to decipher sometimes. I can fax some instructions that are written in “plain English” when we’re done.”

“For now, I know exactly where the problem happened. In step 2, the system is looking for the code 4653 so it knows to erase the previous greeting. This will leave it free to accept the new greeting. So it doesn’t give you this problem again, just got down 4653. I’ll also write that on the faxed instructions. If that doesn’t do it just call me back at extension 127 and I’ll work on it some more.”

Notice, during the entire conversation, I put the focus on the machine, on me, on anything other than the customer. I made statements like, “the system is looking for” instead of “you should have dial in code 4653”. I said, “… the original greeting needed to be erased” rather than “YOU should have erased the original greeting”.

Changing the focus from the customer’s mishap to the product or myself allowed me to handle a sticky situation with a wonderful outcome. The customer didn’t end up feeling like a technologically impaired person, the problem was solved and we retain our customer.

The next time you are faced with breaking bad or difficult news to a customer, take the focus off them and you’ll smooth the way for a happy ending.

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