Inside the Mind of a Customer — Is the Customer Always Right?

Leaders of organisations are continuously telling me they want to be more proactive with their customer service than reactive. Being reactive is okay in the sense that you can’t be expected to see your customers 24/7, which means there will be times when you are faced with a customer that you need to react to. Otherwise, organisations that empower their staff to continuously look for opportunities to improve the customer’s experience or by anticipating their needs, find that they have less conflict to contend with in the first place. When we are confronted by a difficult customer, we think back to our customer service training (usually entirely based on managing conflict) and then we go through the steps like 1-2-3. But do we understand why customers worry or react? Each customer is an individual and has their own circumstances, but if you were to categorise some of these reasons, the following four points come up:

1. Their past service experiences

When you listen to a customer to find out their problem, one of the key pieces of information you are searching for is the background. As we categorise customers in our daily efforts to be more efficient we seem to forget that they all have had their own experiences to this point. In other words, they are going to bring baggage. It is the circumstances surrounding their previous experiences including their personal lives that dictate their moods, which is the primary factor for them to be the way they are. It is okay to not be a step ahead of the customer for this moment as you find out the details of their past experiences.

2. Commonly held stereotypes

Imagine for a moment you work in a call centre. The phone rings, and as your customer service training has taught you, you answer the phone cheerfully but yet again are disappointed with another angry customer. So you automatically shift into conflict mode and, on reflection, wonder why the interaction took a turn like that. Think about it from the customer’s point of view. Whether true or not, the customer will firstly think that they are going to be transferred to a foreign call centre who they cannot understand and most likely be on hold for longer than they are speaking to you. The customer will be worrying based on these stereotypes, what their friends have told them or even what they see in the news. Rather than entering conflict mode, it would be much easier to show them that you and your organisation are different to the commonly held stereotype.

3. Everything will go wrong

Sometimes customers can be difficult for reasons completely unrelated to their lives or even the reason for their interaction. It’s called worrying unnecessarily. Think about a family coming to a restaurant with young children. Even with previously positive experiences and great stereotypes of the venue, they will worry about everything else that can go wrong. What happens if the kids play up? What happens if they don’t like the food? What happens if there is something in the food that causes them an allergic reaction? What happens if we are seated in the sun or in a draught? Will they have a high chair and be able to warm the milk? What if other guests get annoyed if they are loud? This is something staff members can predict when they learn to look at the individual customer more, and this is where the anticipation of needs really becomes helpful.

4. Fear of losing control

A customer may be having the greatest experience until something goes wrong. And sometimes it just happens. Technology or things outside the control of the organisation can impact the customer. Even with genuinely friendly customer service and conflict management, one of the key fears may be their loss of control. Every customer will react differently, but their reaction shouldn’t dictate whether or not they are still in control. Therefore customers need to be given choice, options and in some cases letting them suggest solutions, rather than being proactive and solving the problem for them. This is because customers each have different expectations, so will choose solutions according to those expectations. It is only when their expectations are unrealistic (or a better word being disproportionate to the problem) is when you need to step in. A degree of flexibility is required. This also raises the question of whether their problem is real or perceived, which means being judgemental definitely doesn’t work here.

Chris Smoje is a customer service speaker, trainer, facilitator and founder of the DIME™ Customer Service approach. Chris works with organisations and their people to develop a common interest and excitement about delivering exceptional customer service results:

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