Friday, 2 September 2011

Dealing with deadlock situations

Anybody who has worked in or managed a customer service team will have experienced a deadlock situation.

This is where a customer is demanding something which you are simple unable to deliver.

Poorly trained customer facing staff (or those who have the wrong instincts for customer service) often respond very badly to these requests with a blunt sounding statement which tells the customer what they are unable to do e.g.

I want to speak to the manager!
My manager does not take calls.

I want compensation!
We can't give compensation.

What is your name?
We are not allowed to give out names here, it is company policy.
Telling a customer what you can't do for them is never acceptable as a first response.

More importantly this type of blunt reaction makes this situation even worse.  The customer not only has the issue they originally called about but they are now having to do battle with the attitude of the customer service rep as well.

Even customer service staff who genuinely want to help customers can sometimes respond in the wrong way.  We usually see that the initial response to a deadlock request is pretty good but the approach falls down when the customer continues to demand the impossible. E.g.
Customer - I want to speak to your manager!
My manager is not available at present but if you give me some details I may be able to help you.
Customer - No I want to speak to your manager.
Well I have just told you that he is not here.

Notice how in the initial response the member of staff offered to help the customer as an alternative.  This offer of help was totally missing in the blunt, second response.  This misguided approach is not uncommon within telephone service teams.

The broken record technique
This is a simple technique to avoid the mistakes outlined above and as the name suggests it involves repeating our position to the customer.

There are 2 critical factors:
First, you must avoid repeating what can't be done alone and instead ensure you also repeat the offer of an alternative solution.

Secondly employ the phrase "As I mentioned" in your response.

This phrase is incredibly powerful and assertive. 

See how these 2 factors are employed in the following exchanges:

Customer - I need this for delivery tomorrow.
- I am sorry, I won't be able to deliver this for you tomorrow but I can have this with you on Thursday.
Customer - That's not good enough, I want this tomorrow!
- Mr Anderson, as I mention I am unable to get this to you for tomorrow but I can definitely have this for you on Thursday and if it helps I will make this the first drop.

Customer - I want to speak to your manager!
Mr Joyce, my manager is unavailable, please let me take some details and I will see what I can do to help.
No, I want the manager.
Mr Joyce as I mentioned, the manager is not available at the moment but I would like the opportunity to help you. Alternatively I can take a message and ask her to call you back when she returns later this afternoon.

If the customer continues to demand the impossible then we go to the next stage which involves additional reassurance and drawing the call to a close.  See the article on Additional Reassurance.