Beware of icebergs!

It's tempting to write off service-failures as one-time problems, especially if you found a way to make that customer happy again. What if it wasn't a one-time problem, but the result of a flaw in your service delivery system? The problem could be repeated many more times and many more customers could become angry before it gets solved.

Customer service professionals should always be wary of "icebergs" - what you see above the surface is nothing compared to the big, mean problem under the surface.

Here are some simple questions to help you check for icebergs when you encounter a service problem:

  • Can the same problem exist in other places? 
  • What caused the problem?
  • Who else is affected?

Quoting policy without making your customer angry

Customers often bristle at the word "policy" because it is usually used to tell customers they can't do something they want to do. Artful customer service reps sidestep any potential anger by helping customers understand the benefits. 

Here are a few options you can choose rather than stating "It's our policy":

  • Safety. Some policies are designed with safety in mind. Explain to your customer that you want them to be safe.
  • Efficiency. Policies are sometimes put in place so you can service customers more efficiently. Tell your customer how she will receive better service by doing it your way.
  • Fairness. A few policies are put in place to make things fair for all customers. If this is the case, try to help your customer understand the bigger picture.

Acknowledge and refocus

Taking ownership is sometimes confused with being blamed, but it's really about accepting responsibility for solving a problem. A great way to take ownership (and diffuse any anger) is through the Acknowledge and Refocus technique.

  1. Acknowledge the problem or service failure. This conveys empathy and helps the customer feel valued.
  2. Refocus on a solution. Being solution-oriented prevents you from getting stuck on discussing blame and will give your customer the confidence that you are here to help.

Be the point person

It's amazing how many customer service problems occur because everyone assumes everyone else is doing their job correctly. If I take a call from a customer who really needs some information from my co-worker Mary, I might be tempted to assume my work is done once I give Mary the message, "Customer A called with a question with you."

This is true if Mary calls the customer back right away and provide the answer. But what if she doesn't call? Customer A spoke with me, not Mary, so it would be my fault. Or worse, Customer A will blame all of us.

A better approach that prevents problems is to accept responsibility and be the "point person" for your customer. This can work a number of ways, but all of them result in you ensuring the customer is taken care of.

Example 1: Get the answer from Mary and call the customer back yourself.

Example 2: Do a warm hand-off. This involves making sure Mary knows you've passed the customer along to her and the customer knows Mary will be responding to his question.

Anchor your attitude

The Attitude Anchor is a great way to keep our own negative feelings neutralized, especially when dealing with an upset or difficult customer. The concept works by focusing on something positive that "anchors" your attitude where it needs to be to deliver outstanding service. You can use Attitude Anchors to maintain a positive attitude or to help recover your positive attitude after a difficult interaction.

Attitude Anchors can vary widely from person to person, but here are a few examples:

  • Pictures of family or friends

  • Inspirational (or funny) quotes

  • Upbeat music

  • Conversation with family or friends

  • Humor, including jokes and cartoons

  • Going for a walk

Avoid trigger words

There are certain words that, when used in the wrong place at the wrong time, can trigger a customer's anger. These are called "trigger words". They often make customers angry because they communicate a lack of caring, or worse, they make the customer feel powerless. You can avoid unnecessarily aggravating customers in tense situations by replacing trigger words with words or phrases that are more acceptable.

Here are some examples:




Yes - find a way to say yes

Options - a good bet when you can't say yes, but can give your customer some choices


Benefits - explain how your customer will benefit

Request - put it in the form of a request. Instead of "It's our policy", say, "Will you please."


Can - focus on what is possible

The Good Cop, Bad Cop Technique

A big challenge can occur when a customer's frustration connects you to the problem. It doesn't matter whether or not you caused it, the customer can't get over their anger.

One way to overcome this issue is the good cop, bad cop technique. The customer is angry at you, which makes you the bad cop in this situation. All you have to do is introduce a co-worker or a supervisor to take over the interaction who can act as the good cop.

I've seen this get great results time and time again. A new person on the scene helps the customer instantly calm down and accept the assistance being offered.

This is a tough technique for some people because they confuse being the bad cop with being bad at service. This isn't true at all. Using the good cop, bad cop technique takes an advanced professional who is able to help a customer feel better even if it means getting someone else involved.