Avoid Angry Customers with The No Fault Technique

A subscriber recently sent me the transcript from a chat session she had with a customer.

Her customer had gotten angry and ended the session abruptly. He then complained in a survey about the service he had received. 

The subscriber asked me, "What did I do wrong?"

The gist of the chat session is the customer wrote his payment wasn't going through. The customer service representative responded by saying that, based on the error message the customer received, the most likely causes were an incorrect debit card number, insufficient funds, or a bank error.

I have no reason to doubt these responses were technically correct. It was the delivery that likely angered the customer.

In my reply to this subscriber, I commended her for reaching out to me. Not enough people make an effort to continuously improve.

Then I suggested she try the No Fault Technique.

It's helpful to start by understanding why the customer got angry and then explore how the No Fault Technique can help in the future.

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Why The Customer Got Angry

Let's take a moment to understand why my subscriber's original, fact-based response likely didn't go over so well.

It might help to imagine yourself as her customer. Picture a website with an online payment screen. You enter your payment information, but receive an error message. 

How would that feel?

Most of us would feel a little anxious and frustrated. This experience engages part of our brain responsible for emotions, called the Limbic System. It's one of the three parts of the Triune Brain, with the other two being the primitive brain, which controls basic functions such as breathing, and the neocortex, which handles rational thinking.

The danger is the Limbic System can limit our rational thinking when it gets riled up.

Now, imagine contacting customer support via chat and the support rep tells you the problem is on your end. You either typed in the wrong debit card, you don't have enough money, or your bank made a mistake.

Now, how would you feel? 

It's very likely our fired up limbic system gets defensive and really shuts down logical thinking. It doesn't matter that the support rep's response was entirely rational and accurate. From the customer's perspective, it feels like blame. 

 

The No Fault Technique

Blame can really send a customer over the edge. It's a good idea to side-step a fiery limbic system by avoiding blame as much as possible.

The No Fault Technique is a way to do this by steering the conversation away from blame to focus on solutions instead. 

Lisa Dezoete, an Accounting Administrator at Truckstop.com, often has to contact customers to collect payments for unpaid accounts. Here's how she uses the No Fault Technique.

"I start all calls off with a cheery voice, emphasizing it was 'probably an error' so they don’t feel embarrassed their payment did not go through."

Dezoete then tries to work with her customers to find a solution, such as giving an extension when needed or canceling an unwanted account. Her goal is to disarm the customer's emotional defenses by avoiding blame. 

One way to practice this technique is to use it in small situations where the stakes are low. For example, if someone sends an email but forgets the attachment, you could write, "The attachment didn't come through. Will you please resend?"

Let's apply the No Fault Technique to the payment processing error the subscriber wrote to me about. Here's how that conversation might look:

CSR: Let's try a few things to see if we can solve this!

  1. Try re-entering your debit card number, expiration date, and security code. Make sure the billing address is also correct. 
  2. Double-check the account linked to your debit card to make sure there are sufficient funds.

Customer: My card information is correct and I have enough money in my account.

CSR: Ok, here's another possibility. Some banks set up special fraud protection rules that prevent certain online purchases. If this happens, a quick phone call to your bank will allow the charge to go through.

If that still doesn't work, it may be easiest to try another debit card. We also accept credit cards and PayPal. 

Notice the root causes are still the same. The customer entered information incorrectly, lacked sufficient funds in his account, or his bank prevented the charge for some other reason.

The difference here is they've been reframed as suggested action steps, which shifts the focus away from blame.

The No Fault Technique won't work in every situation and customers may still get upset. But it will give you a better chance at finding a resolution!