Customer support is sometimes considered a repetitive and straightforward task, but only by people who’ve never worked in the field. While it’s true that some support situations tend to repeat themselves, the average agent is met with challenging and unexpected scenarios every single day.
The limits of call scripts
Many support managers provide their representatives with call center scripts. While scripts are a useful tool, they should be considered as a reference rather than a rule. Customers can smell a script from a mile away and chafe at feeling like the rep sees them as a ticket number rather than an individual.
In addition to stifling genuine conversations, strict reliance on scripts can also limit your ability to adapt when unforeseen events arise. Adhering too closely to a script makes an exchange feel canned and impersonal; customers would much rather have a conversation. Personalized customer service is of paramount importance and that sometimes means handling the unforeseen. Let’s look at several unexpected customer support scenarios, since going off-script shouldn’t mean you’re flying by the seat of your pants.
1. Activate emergency protocol!
When business disasters strike, whether a server crash, a security breach, or a salacious scandal, support agents are on the front lines. Agitated customers will call in, and the critical objective here is to retain customers’ trust.
What to do:
- Plan ahead. Having a crisis management process in place before any calamity occurs just makes good sense. Preemptively prepped agents will be more level-headed and at ease during those difficult phone calls, and customers will respond better to that their confidence. This process should also extend beyond your support team since when the going gets tough, you’ll need all hands on deck.
- Apologize. Acknowledging fault, when appropriate, will help regain customers’ trust and clear the way for productive conversations.Denial will only further exacerbate the issue.
- Be transparent. Clearly communicate the expected resolution time and methods you are employing to fix the issue and restore service. Slack taught us that committing to transparency during an outage does wonders.
2. You genuinely don’t know the answer.
There’s no shame in not knowing the answer to a tricky customer support question. The important part is to remain unflappable and put the customer first.
What to do:
No one likes to hear, “We’re unable to answer your question at this time.” It’s universally frustrating. Instead of giving the customer excuses that revolve around your experience (“I wasn’t trained for this,” or “I’m new here”), focus on theirs.
Be honest about your shortcomings, but let them know exactly how and when you will work toward a solution. Consider something along the lines of, “I’m not sure how to answer that question right now, but I’ll get in touch with our tech team and we’ll have an answer for you by 5 pm today.”
3. You screwed up.
Oof. There’s no easy way out of admitting you made a mistake, the only method to regain a customer’s trust is to bite the bullet and apologize. Profusely.
What to do:
Apologizing honestly and transparently is the only way to mitigate the fallout of a mistake which inconvenienced customers. Passing the buck and throwing other people under the bus reflects poorly on you as an individual and the company as a whole.
“I apologize, (say the customer’s name), we’ve made a mistake by (whatever it is you did), and we’re working on fixing it by (your effort goes here). We expect everything will be back to normal by (timeframe), and in the meantime, we’re available to help in any way we can.”
Being forthright is key: give the customer closure on what happened, and give them a reliable delay for a fix.
4. The customer screwed up.
This one’s even tougher than the previous situation since it’s a very delicate matter to explain to a customer that they’re the one in the wrong.
What to do:
Never, ever blame the customer or make them feel like it’s their fault they’re making a mistake. After all, their errors are a reflection of your design and service strategies. The objective is to teach the customer and empower them for future success.
“The issue appears to stem from (the mistake they’re making). Trust me, I’ve been there before! The system is a little confusing, so thank you for bringing the issue to our attention, since now we can work on a fix. In the meantime, here’s how to work around it: (solution). Please let me know if I can offer any more assistance.”
5. The customer is (extremely) angry.
Speaking of unpleasant but inevitable customer support scenarios: irate customers. Some people will already have an angry rant ready before they even start dialing. Unfortunately, that is a situation familiar to every customer support rep.
What to do:
If the customer is agitated, the goal is to gradually bring them down to your emotional level, not to rise to theirs. Give the customer a chance to vent a little — interruptions will only add fuel to the fire. This time is actually a gift, it will give you time to plan your next move.
“I understand how frustrating that must be, I’m sorry you’re encountering this issue. Let’s look at how we can solve it together.”
Empathize with their situation, keep your voice level and calm, and wait until they begin to respond to your emotional cues. Apologizing is key, even if it isn’t your fault. Sympathize with the customer and offer your help. Once the customer has settled, you can move on to solving their issue.
There’s a difference between anger and abuse, however. Some customers aren’t calling to report a problem or resolve an issue, they’re simply looking for a punching bag. If a customer makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe by being threatening or overly aggressive, you are well within your rights to refuse to communicate further.
“I’m perfectly willing to listen to your valid grievances and even more willing to help resolve them, but I have to warn you that if you continue using such aggressive language, I’m going to have to terminate the call.”
If the customer pays no heed to your warning, then you can follow through. Invite the customer to contact you again once they are willing to be respectful.
6. Their request is unreasonable or unfeasible.
Customers will often make unrealistic demands: a product you don’t ship, a feature you won’t add, a discount you can’t grant. Letting customers down easy is tricky, though, since you don’t want to turn their interest into disappointment.
What to do:
The trick to giving a customer bad news is to put a positive spin on what they don’t want to hear. It won’t always work, but you’d be surprised how often it does. Without that positive spin, you’re just letting down a customer instead of helping them see the alternative or the silver lining.
“We’re not planning on releasing that feature for the moment, but here’s a way to achieve the same effect.”
“We don’t carry that item right now, but we’ll have it in stock in two months. Shall I set one aside for you as soon as it’s available?”
“Unfortunately, I can’t grant you that refund, I’m sorry. As a small business ourselves, we just can’t swing that. But we try very hard to tailor our product to our customers, so perhaps I can recommend another plan better suited to your specific needs? Don’t forget, you can cancel your subscription at any time.”
Better than an unyielding “no,” give the customer context and options. Explain the reason behind the “no,” present alternatives, and respect their intelligence. A good compromise will have the customer walking away feeling satisfied and comfortable with the arrangement.
7. If a customer wants to cancel their subscription.
Customers will churn; it’s an unwelcome but unavoidable part of doing business. If a customer calls up to cancel their subscription, you might be tempted to talk them out of it.
What to do:
Don’t. If a customer’s mind is made up, you won’t be able to change it for them; it’s a waste of everyone’s time and of your energy to even try. You might be able to sway a small number of converts to stay with discount codes and rebates, but consider this: if your product isn’t right for this customer today, how likely are they to churn after the rewards run out? Better to rip off the band-aid gracefully and avoid bad publicity.
“I’m sorry to hear that (your product) wasn’t right for you. We can cancel your subscription together. Would you be able to let me know what went wrong for you so that we may improve ourselves for future customers?”
Be graceful, and remember to leave a positive impression that lasts beyond the immediate business relationship.
In the meantime, have you tried Aircall’s phone system solution for support teams?