September 8, 2012
While at home singing his preschool’s goodbye song, my 4-year-old son became frustrated that he could not remember the second verse of the song. He would sing, “Adios, adios. It’s time to say goodbye. Adios, adios…” and then pause as he struggled to recall the next line of the song. Frustrated, he began to cry.
His nanny, Amberle, then asked him, “Carter, are you frustrated because you can’t remember the second verse of the goodbye song?”
Between tears and sniffles, Carter replied, “Yes…”
Amberle then soothed him by saying, “It’s okay. Everyone forgets the words to songs. Do you know what I do when I forget the words to songs?” Carter shook his head no. “I just make them up like this: Adios, adios. It’s time to say goodbye. Adios, adios. Now I’m going to fly.” Carter wiped his eyes and began to giggle as Amberle offered another rendition: “Adios, adios. It’s time to say goodbye. Adios, adios. Now I’m in the sky.”
By now, Carter was laughing and made up his own verse: “Adios, adios. It’s time to say goodbye. Adios, adios. There’s something in my eye!”
At this point, they were both laughing. By her actions, Amberle had nipped the problem in the bud and averted a more protracted outburst. And together, they went merrily onto their next activity.
I share this story because of its implications for customer service. When problems occur (and they will occur), customers become frustrated. When customers are frustrated, it requires action on your part. What happens next is up to you.
As modeled by Amberle, these actions include:
1. Acknowledge the problem
Amberle acknowledged the problem when she asked, “Carter, are you frustrated because you can’t remember the second verse of the goodbye song?”
2. Accept responsibility for addressing the problem
Rather than subtly shifting the blame to Carter by saying, “The next time you sing the goodbye song at school, be sure to put on your listening ears,” Amberle accepted responsibility for addressing the problem—and was ultimately able to resolve it. This is different from accepting responsibility for the problem itself or for the problem’s resolution, neither of which may be within your control.*
3. Display empathy
Amberle displayed empathy when she soothed Carter by saying, “It’s okay. Everyone forgets the words to songs.”
4. Demonstrate creativity
Amberle demonstrated creativity when she asked Carter, “Do you know what I do when I forget the words to songs? I just make them up like this…”
The next time you’re presented with a frustrated customer who has a problem, remember Amberle’s example: acknowledge the problem, accept responsibility for addressing the problem, display empathy, and demonstrate creativity in resolving the issue. If you can resolve the problem to the delight of a customer, then that’s a bonus.
What has your experience been?
*An airline gate agent can’t accept responsibility for the weather that caused a canceled flight and a waiter can’t accept responsibility for a diner’s bankcard that is rejected. In both cases, the best these service providers can do is to address the problem. The gate agent might do so by rebooking a passenger on the next available flight the following morning. This addresses the customer’s problem but, if she was to attend a rehearsal dinner that evening in Chicago, it doesn’t solve it. It’s the same with the waiter. He might suggest running an alternative card but, if the guest doesn’t have another form of payment, even though the waiter appropriately addressed the problem, it remains unresolved.