Come Back, Words!
Customer service tips for learning how to know what to say in every situation
We’ve all had those moments – as the words are leaving your mouth, you know it’s the wrong thing to say but it’s too late to stop. Sometimes, we inadvertently offend someone and there’s not an easy way to recover the situation. In business, this situation goes two ways: when you accidentally say the wrong thing to a customer, and when a customer says the wrong thing to you. The difference is, in both situations, it’s your responsibility to do what you can to repair the relationship.
When you say the wrong thing
The scenarios are endless: you make a joke someone didn’t think was funny, you hit “send” on an email to the wrong person, said exactly what you were thinking before filtering it, ask someone about their spouse without knowing they’re recently divorced. It’s the worst feeling to know your words caused damage to another person, your reputation, and your potential business relationship. Here are some thoughts on how to try and recover the situation:
- Apologize. Don’t make excuses, don’t be over-flowery in your wording, but simply – and quickly! – say “I am so sorry!” and move on. Depending on the situation, you might add a discount to products or services, although this may not always be appropriate. But your first course of action, every time, is to start with a simple, genuine, “I am sorry for my actions and words.”
- Avoid over-doing it. Sometimes we interpret a person’s offense as worse than it actually is, and can over-do our apology because of our own guilt or embarrassment. The result is that we generally make the other person feel even more awkward about what happened. Apologize, do what you can to make it right, but also try to be aware of the severity of the offense and match your actions on the same level.
- Don’t get defensive. If the other person comes back and refuses your apology, don’t let their anger incite you to dig your hole even deeper. Stick with the simplicity of your apology, be willing to “be the bad guy,” and realize you won’t be able to win them all over.
- Know when to let it go. Some people simply cannot be pleased and will not forgive you or let it go no matter what you do to try and make it right. Apologize, do what you can to make it right, but if the offended person still isn’t happy, remember that if you’ve done your best, there are some relationships you simply will not be able to salvage – and if that’s the kind of character they are, you may be better off without them.
When the wrong thing is said to you
The other side of the coin is being on the receiving end of an offensive comment. Sometimes people make off the cuff remarks without realizing the damage their words might do. Sometimes customers and clients will be intentionally harsh with their words. Good customer service is knowing how to handle both instances with professionalism and grace. Whether intentional or accidental, here are some tips for tactfully dealing with damaging comments made by your customers or potential clients.
- Don’t take it personally. It is a choice! Even if someone meant it personally, you can choose to not let it get under your skin to the degree that you retaliate.
- Apologize. Even when you’re accused of something clearly not your fault, you can choose to be the bigger person and apologize for the sake of the relationship. You don’t have to apologize for things you haven’t done, but you can apologize in such a way that takes ownership for things the other person views as your fault, such as saying “I am so sorry I have made you feel that way.”
- Don’t retaliate. Especially when someone is trying to provoke you, refuse to take the bait. Responding with professionalism will (hopefully) take the spite out of their emotions, but even if it not, it will reflect positively on your reputation with anyone watching it play out.
- Learn to let it go. Again, you can’t win them all. Do what you can to do right by people, but recognize that there will come a point when you need to give up and let it go.
Dealing with situations when the wrong thing has been said is one of the greatest customer service challenges many of us face. What are ways you’ve handled these scenarios? How have you been successful at it? We’d love to hear in the comments!