This is the first of a two part series discussing online customer service. This first part is for those of you responding to customer problems, the second part will address how to be a good social media customer.
I worked for AT&T at the tail end of their TDMA days. For those who don’t know, there was a major technology shift from TDMA to the globally accepted GSM standards which impacts how cell phones talk to cell towers.
It was my job to convince everyone that GSM was awesome and that the terrible coverage, more expensive plans, and new phone requirement was actually good for them. The store I worked for at first was in a community that was served mostly by a single tower on the top of a long-closed state mental hospital. When the tower was shut down without warning, I was part of the front line that was fortunate enough to hear about it from our upset customers.
During this time, one of my managers taught me the concept of Feel, Felt, Found. It seems so obvious, yet I’ve noticed over the years that no one else seems to use it. I’ve held on to it as my closely guarded secret for years, but after having seen so many bad responses to customers on social media, I’m here to share. Feel, Felt, Found has worked incredibly well for me when dealing with upset customers, hopefully you can use it to your advantage.
I Understand How You Feel…
When a customer is complaining, the first thing they want is to simply be heard. As the person responding to the complaint, the first thing you need to do is empathize with the situation. Be sincere! Do NOT just say this because you read somewhere online that you should.
I had a customer who was upset because there was an item missing from their order, so to show that I understand how they feel, I said, “I hate it when that happens!” Not only am I humanizing the company, I’m letting them know that I have similar frustrations in situations like this.
If you do not understand how your customer feels, do not say anything until you do. Look at it from their perspective, try to understand the complaint. Once you do, let them know you understand, then…
…Others Have Felt This Way…
People tend to feel better when they realize they aren’t the only one having a problem. Now don’t just say “others have felt this way”, give it some personality, some customization. It’s even better if you are the person who has felt this way because it shows that you truly do understand how the customer feels.
For the customer who had a missing item in their order, I said, “We take great care to make sure this doesn’t happen, but we are human and we do make the occasional mistake.” This helps to reassure the customer that we didn’t single them out maliciously and that there have been others who’ve had the same problem and realistically there will be others in the future who suffer from a similar mixup. In this example, it’s easy for me because even the king of retail Amazon has messed up my orders in the past.
…What I’ve Found Is…
Here’s where you provide the solution. People complain because they want to be heard, want to know they’re not alone, but ultimately to get the problem fixed. So fix it!
With my example customer, I said, “If you could email me your order information, I’m sure we can get this fixed right away.” What I’ve found is that by you giving me the information to fix your problem, I can fix it.
Bonus tip: If possible, move the complaint away from social media. Asking someone to email you with more details is the easiest way to do this.
The Follow Through
Now you have an email in your inbox giving more details of the situation. If it’s something easy like my example, you ship the product, eat the expedited shipping cost, and apologize profusely. The majority of the time, the customer will go back to social media to publicly thank you for fixing the problem. Future customers see you care about your customers and take problem solving very seriously.
Some complaints are trickier because the fix isn’t so obvious. If you find yourself in this situation, I recommend simply asking, “What can I do to make this situation right?” Never refer to the problem as “your (the customers) problem”, like “How can I fix your problem?” The problem exists because you did something wrong in the eyes of the customer, so it’s your problem, not theirs.
I’ve noticed over the years that simply asking the customer for their ideal solution doesn’t always work. In the US, it seems to be a bit geographic, some parts of the country already know what the fix is, others will want you to come up with the solution. If they respond to your question asking how you can make the situation right with an “I don’t know”, take a second to fully evaluate the situation. Some times all it takes is an apology. Some times it may take a free course or out of policy exchange or a gift card/store credit.
And some times, regardless of what you offer, the customer will still be unhappy due to their unrealistic expectations of how you should handle the problem.
Have some policies in place for your business. When you tell a customer, “It’s our policy…”, it’s some kind of strange psychological Jedi mind trick that tells them, “Sorry, nothing more I can do here.”
A customer complaint I dealt with recently was because the customer had ordered a product a year prior, used it several times, then they were unable to find a part for the product locally. They tried to tell me they’d been sent the wrong product, which was verified to be untrue. They tried to tell me they’d never used it even though they’d told me they’d used it several times.
When I asked how I could fix the situation, they only wanted a full refund, but were unwilling to send back the “defective” product. In discussing the details of the situation with management, we determined this to be an unreasonable request. Depending on your business and the product in question, you may choose to eat the cost, but in this situation that didn’t make sense.
Luckily, we have a very generous, clearly stated return/exchange/warranty policy. I was able to tell the customer, “I’m sorry, but our policy is that products need to be returned within our return period in order to receive a refund.” While I expect the customer was not happy they didn’t get their way, there were no further complaints made publicly online.
Depending on the situation, I’d encourage you to consider posting the policy statement as a reply publicly on their social media complaint so other customers know you tried to help them, but their situation was simply outside of policy.
When I first started with my employer, I responded to quite a few complaints using these techniques. In the years I’ve been doing this, social media complaints have decreased dramatically and people now know to contact me directly with their situations because they know I’m going to need more details than social media provides.
Try this process out the next time you receive negative feedback and see how it works for you. But remember, be sure you actually do understand how the customer feels. This isn’t simply a formula you can recite to make all your problems go away, it’s a framework to work within customized to each specific issue.