A number of years ago, I was travelling for a job interview and booked a night at a Hampton Inn. I awoke and looked to take a shower when I discovered a problem. My room had no hot water.
I dressed and went to the front desk and explained the situation—I was getting ready for an interview and the room had no hot water—and a nearby manager ran over and said, “We’ll comp your room” – giving me the room for free. That was all well and good, but I had just explained that I was travelling for an interview, and it would have been easy to assume that I wasn’t paying for the room. Therefore not only did the comped room not matter to me practically, it also didn’t matter emotionally—it was clear that the manager didn’t listen, but instead jumped immediately to a solution. His “resolution” left me more frustrated than the original situation.
Listen, Then Speak
If you assume that all your customers want from you are free things, the policy of offering a free night’s stay is an obvious solution to any guest’s problem. However, more often than not, being given free stuff is not what a disgruntled customer wants when they contact your customer service. When I called the attendant at my Hampton Inn, I was nervous as I prepared for the interview, and what I really wanted was the desk attendant to hear what I had to say and to apologize.
In contrast, this summer, I was once again travelling and once again booked a night at a Hampton Inn. In what could only be described as an ironic twist, once again the hot water in my room didn’t work. This time when I stopped by the front desk, however, the attendant took the time to listen to me. The first thing she did was apologize. Then, she explained that they had been having this problem recently, and were looking into it. Finally, she found out that I had paid for the room in points, and offered to specifically refund the points I had spent getting the room.
Same situation, same end result, even the same company—but very different responses. Not only from the desk attendants, but from me, too—I left the first interaction feeling irritated and disgruntled, but I left the second, if not happy—I still didn’t have any hot water—satisfied and, most of all, heard. The attendant listened to me as I explained the problem, apologized for the inconvenience, and reimbursed me in a specific and personalized way.
Translating to Other Areas
Now, apply this principle to the frontline workforce at contact centers. Customers call you when they have a problem; it might seem most efficient to focus on fixing the problem as quickly as possible, and then moving on to the next customer. However, fixing the problem from your point of view might be very different from solving the problem from your customer’s point of view. From your customer’s viewpoint, the problem is ultimately that they had to call you in the first place; they had to expend the effort to make the call and explain their problem, and they want to be recognized that they have invested their most precious commodity – their time. Even a simple apology is appreciated, and shows empathy on the part of the employee and therefore the company. Then and only then deal with the problem at hand.
There are three rules for creating a successful call center that can deal with customers’ problems both empathetically and usefully.
- Hire for empathy. You can’t train for empathy. The ability and instinct to listen and empathize with your customers’ needs, emotional and otherwise, is a difficult skill to teach. Therefore, during your hiring process, make sure to screen for candidates who are naturally able to understand customers and their needs.
- Enable empathy. Even the most empathetic of people cannot be so under the strict time limits and scripts that many contact centers use. Allow extra time for your employees to listen, understand, and respond to your customers, and you will be repaid with satisfied and loyal customers.
- Empower resolution. At the end of the day, customers interact with your frontline workforce because they have a specific problem with your goods or services, and so allow your frontline workforce employees to offer just as specific and personalized a solution. While you can and should recommend specific resolutions, allow your reps the creativity to respond specifically to your customer’s unique situation.
Employing these kinds of personalized, empathetic responses to customer problems will not only save you money, but build a loyal customer base that feels both heard and understood by your company.
Oh, and don’t forget rule number 4—make sure your water heaters work.