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.

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.