Why We Need Customer Service Reminders

You can solve a lot of problems just by listening to your customers.

A few years ago, I followed up with Sue Thompson, the Associate Director of Transportation and Parking at Oregon Health and Science University. Her team had just attended my Delivering Next Level Service course, and I wanted to see how things were going. 

Thompson is very diligent about following up with her team after training to support the concepts they learned. However, she told me that her hectic schedule made it difficult to touch base with each employee as often as she’d like to.

This conversation spurred the creation of my Customer Service Tip of the Week email. Each weekly email contains a single customer service tip that’s based on my training class. 


Why We Need Reminders


Most of us had a combination locker in high school.

Back then, you could open the locker in a matter of seconds. You knew the combination so well it was practically burned into your muscle memory.

It would likely be a different story if you stood in front of that locker today. Most of us wouldn’t be able to open our old locker even if the combination was exactly the same.

That’s because we store most information on a use it or lose it basis. Frequent use and repetition makes that knowledge easily accessible. Infrequent use causes the information to slip farther and farther back in our memories.

Customer service reminders can help keep fundamental concepts top of mind.


How to Use the Weekly Tips

Sue Thompson has all of her employees subscribe to the free weekly tips. This supplements the frequent one-on-one and team check-ins that she and her leadership team do with the department.

I wanted to find out how other people use the tips, so I reached out to a few other subscribers. Here are a few examples:

Gina, a Customer Care Director, uses the tips to generate discussion topics for her daily team huddle meetings. She often forwards the tips to her team when sharing reminders about a particular topic.

Mark Berlin, Guest Services Director at the USS Midway Museum, connects the tips to specific customer service challenges. This reminds employees about ways they can use them to resolve problems.

Lupe Zepeda, Customer Service Manager at CSA Travel Protection, uses the tips for ideas that can improve customer satisfaction. For example, her team stocked up on branded note cards after reading this tip on the power of handwritten notes. 

Jeremy Watkin, Director of Customer Service at Phone.com, forwards tips to his team when they address a specific issue or concept he wants to reinforce. 

Watkin told me he finds the reminders are personally helpful too:

With tips such as this, I find that even if I’ve heard them a thousand times, they help tune my mind and remind me of the behaviors necessary to deliver awesome service to our customers at Phone.com.


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The Partner Technique

You'll have better luck serving angry customers if you make them feel like you're on their side. This is called the Partner Technique.

Here are some examples of using partner behaviors:

  • Shift your body language so you're both facing the problem together
  • Listen carefully to customers so they feel heard
  • Use collaborative words like "We" and "Let's"

It's hard to be upset at someone who wants to help us. Most customers naturally calm down when they realize you are listening to their issue and trying to be helpful. 

One final note: Being on the customer's side doesn't necessarily mean you aren't on your company's side. It just means that you are making an effort to understand your customer and help them succeed.

Overcorrect When Solving Problems

There’s a great line in the book Human Sigma by John H. Fleming and Jim Asplund:

Feelings are facts.

Customers use feelings to form their perception about the service they receive. These feelings are much stronger, and much more important than what actually happened.

Service failures can create strong feelings about poor service. Research shows that fixing the problem might not be enough to make the customer feel good again.

If we want our customer to feel great, we have to overcorrect.

Here are some examples:

A winery shipped wine to the wrong address. They fixed the problem by sending a new shipment to the correct address and overcorrected by letting the first recipient keep the wine they incorrectly received.

A cable repair technician fixed a glitch in the customer’s cable system and then overcorrected by showing the customer how to boost their wifi reception.

A technical support agent helped a customer access a locked account and then overcorrected by showing the customer some new features that would save her time.

In each of these cases, the customer went from feeling bad about the problem to feeling great about the extra level of service they received. All because of the overcorrect.

Be Careful With Extras

We're taught to always go the extra mile. You can't go wrong with giving a customer a little extra, right?

Well, sometimes you can.

  • A free dessert at a restaurant can backfire if the guests are already stuffed or watching their diet. Do they eat something they don’t want or reject such a nice gift?
  • An upgrade to the deluxe package at the car wash can backfire if the customer is in a hurry and finds the smell of air freshener to be sickening.
  • Upgrading an airline passenger's seat to an exit row can backfire if it separates her from the rest of her family.

Try to see things through your customer's eyes before giving your customer a little extra. And, when in doubt, ask them first. 

It shows you care and it might help avoid an uncomfortable situation.

Find Your Lagniappe

Marketing expert Stan Phelps wrote about the concept of a lagniappe in his book, The Purple Goldfish

Technically, "lagniappe" means a small gift given to a customer at the time of purchase. Phelps broadens this to mean an "unexpected surprise that’s thrown in for good measure to achieve product differentiation, drive retention, and promote word of mouth."

Here are just a few examples:

  • Customers at Jason's Deli can always treat themselves to free ice cream.
  • Any part under $1 is given away for free at Zane's cycles.
  • When you buy a suit at Men's Warehouse, you can always get it pressed for free.

So, what low cost and simple lagniappes will delight your customers?

Share customer feedback

If you interact with a lot of customers you probably hear plenty of stories. Good, bad, and sometimes ugly. The point is, a lot of valuable customer feedback comes to you that could be used to improve your company's products and services.

Here are some things you can do with customer feedback:

  • Keep track of common complaints and share them with your boss, the product development team, or anyone else who can make a difference.
  • Pass along compliments to your co-workers so they know they've made an impact. 
  • Encourage customers to complete customer satisfaction surveys


The Pre-emptive Acknowledgement

The Preemptive Acknowledgement is the customer service professional's secret weapon against negative emotions. It's very simple to understand, but spotting situations where you can use it effectively can take a little practice. Here's how it works:

Step 1Spot a problem before the customer points it out.

The key here is to spot the problem before the customer has a chance to complain. (Once the customer gets angry you'll no longer be able to use the Preemptive Acknowledgement.) For example, you might notice a customer who has been waiting in line or has been on hold.

Step 2: Acknowledge the situation before the customer complains.

You can do this by apologizing, demonstrating empathy, or thanking the customer for their patience. Your acknowledgement must preempt the customer's complaint or anger for this technique to work. If you acknowledge the situation first, the customer is likely to be okay (as long as you handle it). If you wait for the customer to get upset your job will be much, much harder.

Step 3: Re-focus on a solution.

Re-direct the interaction to focus on a solution rather than the problem.

Here's an example:

"I'm sorry about the wait, but thank you for being so patient! Let's get you taken care of!"

Tell the truth

It may be tempting to exaggerate or bend the facts a little to make a customer feel better when there is a problem. Unfortunately, this tactic often makes things worse in the long run when the customer discovers you gave them inaccurate information.

A better way to handle difficult situations is to tell customers the truth. And then tell them what you plan to do about it.

Here's an example:

My colleague, George, once had to tell 800 airline passengers that their flights were all cancelled due to an ice storm. It was a Sunday and flights weren't scheduled to resume until Wednesday.

George knew the only option was to tell the truth, even though people would be upset with the news. He stood in front of the crowd, announced the flight delay, and then explained his plan to get everyone reaccommodated as quickly as possible.

Passengers weren't thrilled, but at least they now had the information they needed to make informed decisions about their travel.

The Circle of Influence exercise

Some customers are extremely difficult to work with. They routinely leave you frustrated, frazzled, and flummoxed despite your best efforts to please. Keep in mind you'll have two options the next time you encounter the same person:

Option #1: Handle things exactly the same way. (Prepare to be frustrated once again.)

Option #2: Expand your Circle of Influence to try and get a better result.

How the Circle of Influence concept works:

Draw a circle on a piece of paper. Imagine that everything inside of the circle are things you can directly control, such as how you respond to a difficult customer. Now, imagine everything outside the circle are things you can't control, such as what your customer had for breakfast (Angry Man Cereal, perhaps?).

You can expand your Circle of Influence by doing two things:

  1. Stop worrying about things you can't control. (Easier said than done, I know.)
  2. Experiment with changing your own behavior to see if you get a better result.