June, 2012:

Never Reprimand Your Customer

Teach Them By Using The “Knock It Off – Nicely” Technique™

One of the hardest things a company has to do is train their staff to deal with customers who don’t know how to use their product or service in the intended way. If the staff don’t know how to correct the customer eloquently, they actually appear to “reprimand” the customer. It typically happens when the customer is new to the service or product. The product or service may not be new, but it is new or unfamiliar to the customer somehow. I’ve seen many service providers (staff) who hate “stupid” customers and have a tendency to handle them by showing frustration. I always teach that there is no stupid customer, just a skill or information gap. A customer service expert finds out what the gap is, then reaches out to help or teach them. I often see staff members scold (tell them sternly how it should be done or just why it doesn’t work that way), or chastise or even use sarcasm to get their point across. All this does is ensure the customer leaves angry and often never comes back, which is very costly. Even if the customer figures out they were wrong, the emotional damage to the customer experience is in most cases unforgivable. (Who wants to use a company where their staff embarrassed you, even if you were wrong?)

Every company has instructions, menus, rules, regulations and a particular way to use or order their product or service. Here are some examples I’ve witnessed in the last three months.

1. Example of air travel restrictions. I witnessed security guards at airports “instructing” (actually, using sarcasm) towards a person who had not flown since the rule changed years ago about allowable volume of liquids and gels (less than 100 ml, 100 grams , or 3.4 oz depending on which measurement system/country you use). And the containers also have to be readily accessible in a clear 1-litre bag. That is a lot of information to teach the millions of people who travel every day. Just check out the CATSA or TSA website; you have to read virtually a manual just to figure out what you can and can’t fly with. (In the incident I saw, the customer had an expensive bottle of duty-free alcohol purchased earlier in his travels and he was now connecting to another flight. Boy, did he get in trouble from the officer who promptly took it away, and not without a fight – no options were offered.)

2. A coffee shop employee instructing a customer what was a “tall” versus a “small” didn’t go well. The unfortunate senior gentleman was so confused about the size; in the end he just wanted a cup of coffee.

3. The best example of poor instruction (a reprimand) was a flight attendant actually yelling at a customer that his bag would not fit in the overhead bin. After much fuss – and the passenger becoming red in the face trying to push it in – she finally let him know sarcastically, if he “just put the wheels up and in backwards, it would fit”. I thought, why did she not just let him know this in the first place instead of getting in a tussle? It would have been much easier for everyone if she had simply made an announcement to explain how bags would best fit for this aircraft type. Instead, now all the passengers in the surrounding rows were mad at the flight attendant and the entire airline; they felt like no one cared. (Heck, customers are still mad about paying for a checked bag so they now bring it on board and we all take the delay, but that’s a topic for a different article.)

So how do you teach your customers what you need, without reprimanding them? Let’s help put your staff at ease with a technique, and your customer will actually feel cared for even when they are doing something wrong. I call it the “Knock It Off Nicely” Technique™. It goes like this.
1. What: explain what the issue is.
2. Why: share the reason why it is a problem for them.
3. How: teach what other options might work (try not to use can’t, no, won’t or don’t).

Using our first example about air travel restrictions, here’s how to use the technique:
1. What: “Unfortunately, since 2006, there has been a restriction on liquids and gels over 100 ml in carry- on luggage.”
2. Why: “This was due to increased security threats.”
3. How: (Teach what a customer CAN do instead of telling them what they can’t). “The options are to discard the item(s) here, try to re-check them with the airline (a knapsack can be purchased at newsstand), store it in the Baggage Storage area if you are connecting back this way, or donate it to someone in the airport (perhaps the person who dropped you off).” When I worked with security screeners in the past – they came up with about 12 different options.

There are a couple of main points when you are correcting customers:
• Rule #1 – Don’t use the word “you” (focus on the problem, not the person); and
• Rule #2 – ensure customers are informed about the issue (the what), why it is a problem, and teach by suggesting (options) how the problem could be fixed. If you do this, you are teaching. If you miss the why and the how, you are just reprimanding.

Have your teams face the challenge of “teaching” where you see customers just not understanding. Write your own scripts to fix the problem.

If you feel your staff would benefit from learning this technique and many other skills we offer, which help organizations become #1 in Customer Service, turn staff into Customer Service Experts and transform teams into customer care crusaders, contact us today regarding our customer service training programs: info@elaineallison.com

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