Teaching Customer Service People How to Disappoint Customers

One of the most difficult things to do in life is to disappoint someone. But sometimes you simply have no choice – you can’t do everything and please everyone.

When it comes to customer service, disappointing customers is something that needs to be taught or you’ll end up in trouble. If you give in to every customer demand, you’ll end up hurting the bottom line and sometimes you’ll fall victim to fraud.

Grumpy-CatA few scenarios and how to handle them:

  • A prospective customer wants you to waive a sign up fee: Your company occasionally provides discount or coupon codes that waive a sign up fee, but in general, you require customers to pay to join your club. Telling the potential customer that they have to pay is tough for a customer service agent to handle. Arming them with a good explanation makes it easier to teach them how to do it without feeling like they’ve failed. Real world example: try to get a free Costco membership.
  • A current customer wants a discount on pricing: You might discount for some customers who do a significant volume of sales with you. Sometimes customers ask and they simply don’t qualify for a discount off the regular price. In this case, having some tangible guidelines for the customer service person helps to get them over the hump of saying no. Real world example: try to get a discount on a MacBook Air at the Apple Store.
  • A customer wants a refund or wants you to cover their mistake or loss: If someone drops their brand new phone in the toilet a week after they get it, that’s a drag. But should you eat the cost of a new phone for them? No. But it’s natural for the customer service person to empathize with the customer and they will want to help them out and make it all better by providing a replacement phone for free. That replacement costs you real money. The solution is to have firm guidelines for replacement of damaged phones. Real world example: buy a new Ford, scrape the side pulling out of the dealership, and see what they say when you ask for a new one for free.

Take Emotion Out of the Equation

The common thread here in terms of helping the customer service agent disappoint the customer is to take the burden away from the agent and put it at the company level. When the customer service person is left to decide who to “help out” they will generally end up helping everyone. That’s likely not financially viable for the company.

Instead, take the decision away from the customer service person and give them the excuse they need to take their own guilt away when they are stuck disappointing a customer. Create firm guidelines for when to replace a product, or when to provide a discount and then don’t deviate from them. The customer service agent can still play the hero when the customer’s demand satisfies those guidelines, but when they don’t, the agent won’t be the one who is disappointing the customer and that will help them do what needs to be done in that situation.

These thoughts are my own

We’ve been doing a little thinking at work about how personal and professional have blended and how things you post online as yourself could be mistaken as views that represent the views of your employer.

A lot of this stems from something going on in an industry that my employer is also involved in. I generally steer clear of talking about anything work-related on any social media sites, including my blog. That is sometimes tough as things like Internet censorship and policy are topics I’m very interested in and would like to comment on.

We don’t have a policy at work per se. But there is an understanding amongst those of us who work there that we all represent the company to a certain extent in everything we do.

Over the five years I’ve been there, I’ve bumped into the edge of this quasi-policy a couple of times. It’s never been anything major – in both cases it was related to being openly critical of a company or person that was connected to a customer. In both cases, it was good to be reminded that the Internet is vast and interconnected.

You might notice the new little disclaimer to the right in the sidebar of the blog. It’s not anything new – my views have always been my views. What is new is that this is the first time I’ve felt that I should have it there.

The specific text, which I adapted slightly, comes from an Apple policy that I think is well done. I won’t post it here, since it belongs to Apple, but it’s fully posted at in this post at 9to5Mac. It doesn’t give me a free pass to say what I want, but I think it is important to have it there to ensure that readers understand that what I put here isn’t always in agreement with what my employer might think.