The customer is never right. A customer may be participating in a discussion that isn’t just a debate or a time to share ideas, and learn new things with an employee. That employee is doing what he or she can to be right.
This is a different type of discussion than someone talking about facts or arguing a point about how to address an issue or trying to get to the best possible answer. I’m talking about being right even if the person is misguided and plain wrong. The employee keeps the conversation going, rambling across topics to get you to admit that he or she is right about a topic, even going as far as to fall to opinion only and ignore facts.
A version of mansplaining can happen to customers by company employees. The customer may make a claim about an event, or product or issue. The employee claims that the customer must be wrong, the company is never wrong. There is no acknowledgement of the customer's point or a path defined so everyone wins. It's only about the employee winning and being right.
A friend of mine shared a story of her experience in Home Depot. She was looking for a specific part. She asked the salesperson where that part was in the store. He showed her where it was but proceeded to tell her that she needed a different part. He never asked her why she needed the part or what she was doing for a project. There was a lot of back and forth between my friend and this employee, a seemingly circular conversation where he kept trying to "be right." Finally, the employee admitted that she had the right part, but then questioned why she had that situation in the first place with this employee.
That employee's actions are a sign of contempt.
Demonstrating an underlying hostility towards a customer; "Why can't they do what they are supposed to do?" It’s understandable that someone would be annoyed at answering the same question four times in a row. But there can be a response based on being tired of answering the same question, stressed about the line of 30 people all wanting to get a fast answer "right now," and annoyed that these customers keep asking questions, thinking "sigh can’t they just figure this out on their own? "
A great example of an employee feeling contempt is the American Airlines guy who loses it. I mean, we’re not just talking anger. He obviously can’t understand why the customers are upset, and we can only assume that he believes they caused their own problems, he constantly defends his behavior (because he is right - and will be right, darn it!), and wants the customers to just do what they are supposed to do (in this case, give him the stroller and quietly sit in their seats and not speak up).
We talk to sad, angry, grumpy, stressed, even hysterical people at work every day. But how can you help them solve their problems, shift their mood, and maintain your own mood at the same time?
Doesn't seem like it should be part of your job? If you work in customer service or in account management, believe it or not, it probably is. When a customer calls with a problem he or she needs resolved, most likely, that person is in a foul mood. People don't call customer service or support because things are going well. And when things aren't going well, people are emotional, and want someone to help them solve their problem.
Somehow, you need to provide them with a great experience. And that experience includes emotional support, too.
What's also difficult is that these types of interactions often happen over the phone, and virtual interactions are hard. You can only hear their voice; you can't see their faces. That means that it's easy to hide emotions. Further, only solving their problem may not calm them down. That's one part of it, but there may be more to it.
Success in these situations lies in exercising empathy. Here's how I handle these situations so that I can build a connection, develop a relationship, get an issue resolved, and resolve the emotional distress:
Step 1: Build rapport and a relationship with who is calling me. Before we get to business, we learn a bit about each other, talk about the weekend, our hobbies, and similarities. We build some social common ground. Although it sounds trite, talking about the weather or a movie can create a connection between people. If the person calling me for a solution is upset, this tactic can diffuse the tension a little bit, distract the person from their emotions for a few minutes, and changes the dynamic to go from someone needing help to two humans talking to each other. Being on the phone by its nature makes us anonymous. We need to shift from anonymity to connectedness.
Step 2. Get to business and learn about the problem. After some conversation, I find out why the person is calling and hear their story. I listen to them. Really listen. I learn what happened, how it happened, and why it needs to be fixed. I listen to find out how they are feeling about the problem, hearing emotional nuances over the phone. You can learn a lot about a person if you listen to them. Julian Treasure has a lot of information about listening. There's more here. And more here in the virtual team presentation too. And it helps you to communicate with someone better.
Step 3. I then ask why that person called to fix the problem. What's his motivation to make the call and get the issue fixed? According to Srini Pillay, fear may motivates us, but not in the way many think it does. We aren't motivated by the fear of missing out or not solving a problem. We are motivated by our own internal value system. This is different for everyone - some are motivated more by keeping their personal relationships, their job, their home and car, helping their children succeed. I try to learn what's driving someone's decisions - what's the factor behind why they make the decisions they do. And why they need the problem fixed.
Step 4. I consider past experiences I have had and how they are similar to what this person is experiencing now. I try to find an experience from my life that will relate to what this person is experiencing. Some things I will look for when I remember an experience that is similar to what this person is experiencing:
Step 5. I help them resolve the issue (and get them to feel better about themselves too).
Step 6: Wrap up the call. Make sure the person feels better. Or at least, sounds more positive and upbeat. Don't let people leave upset, even if you can't solve their problem on that same call. Give that caller some hope and a positive outlook that his situation will change and get better.
Leave people better than you found them. If you can resolve someone's issue, you have resolved half of the problem. If you can relate to the other person and make them feel better about their problem and life - you have done more than expected.
Sometimes, people want to feel heard. And if you hear someone, empathize with them, and solve their problems, you have made a new friend and created a wonderful customer experience. Job well done!