A 7-Part Recipe to Move Clients from Anxiety to Joy
When clients complain – in any industry, whether it’s service or product based, and whether it’s an internal client or an external client — our first instinct is to try to solve their problems. Although solving their problem is important, it’s only one part of a spectacular service interaction.
In order to maintain strong client relationships, we must also resolve the emotional aspect of the interaction. You must address the impact the problem has had on the client’s life and how the client feels about the circumstances. Ignoring this emotional aspect can limit your relationship, even if the technical side of the problem can be solved quickly and painlessly.
Think about the last time you had an issue with a product or service. Let’s say when you called in to complain you experienced stellar client service. When was your opinion of the company highest? Back when you hadn’t had any issues with them at all? Or after you called in and were treated with excellent care?
Chances are it’s the latter.
Every company falls down sometimes; it’s how we get back up that separates us from the competition.
Spectacular service is a seven-step recipe for reintroducing integrity into our relationship with a client by turning that client’s anxiety into joy, and ultimately, winning affinity and loyalty from the client.
The 7 Steps
Consider the following scenario:
Dennis runs a busy Internet company that relies on its busy website for product orders and client service issues. Servers Plus is the company Dennis contracted with to host his website and his business email accounts. There are 5 email accounts altogether, counting Dennis’s and his sales and support team.
On any given day, Dennis’s business processes 50-100 orders of product as well as multiple client service items. The website and email are Dennis’s life blood.
Servers Plus recently performed an upgrade which was done overnight on a Monday. Unfortunately, the upgrade failed and all of the servers are down which means that Dennis’s business – along with everyone else’s using Servers Plus – is stranded with no email and no website. When clients go to order products, they’re told the website is temporarily unavailable and to try again later.
Dennis relies on product orders to make payroll and the next cycle of paychecks is due in 3 days.
Now we’ll apply the seven steps to Spectacular Service.
Step One: Identify the Concerns
Dennis calls you to complain that he can neither receive product orders nor send and receive emails. This is not only affecting his entire business structure but his ability to meet payroll as well.
The first thing to do is to identify Dennis’s concerns and to understand the impact of those concerns not being met. Don’t assume you know his concerns, their impact on Dennis’ life, or how Dennis feels about it, as your assumptions may often be incorrect. This is not the time to ask fact-finding questions – rather, you must figure out where our relationship with Dennis is out of integrity.
Your questions will give Dennis the ability to let off some steam but always remember that his anger and upset are not directed at you personally. At this moment, YOU are the company. Dennis isn’t calling Fran in client service; he’s calling Servers Plus.
Keeping that in mind will help you avoid feeling defensive. The moment you start trying to deflect client accusations, that defensive tone will creep into your voice and this otherwise controllable issue could quickly turn into a wild fire.
You’ve identified his concern as that his email and web site are not working. The impact of this problem is that Dennis cannot conduct his business without these services, and he’s got to make payroll in three days. As a result, he’s anxious and angry.
Step Two: Acknowledge the Concern
Now that you’ve identified Dennis’s concerns and gauged his emotional state, it’s time to move on to acknowledgement. You can’t continue the process without first acknowledging the client, even if you don’t agree with everything they’ve said.
Acknowledgement ≠ Agreement
You have much more to gain from acknowledging the client than from disputing the truth of some part of their story. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to get to the truth, but not until you have the client’s permission to proceed.
So what do you say when Dennis tells you what has happened and how that will impact his business? Put yourself in Dennis’s shoes and demonstrate that you can relate to his circumstances: “I hate it when that happens” or “Hey, that’s not good. Let’s get working on this.” Whatever your response, it must be genuine.
A fundamental part of the acknowledgement process is to always do it from the client’s perspective, not your own. How would you react if you were the client calling in instead of the one in client service answering the call? And how would you feel if your very business structure was down and you had payroll to meet in 3 days?
The most common cause of customer service failure is the failure to acknowledge. As humans, we desperately seek to be acknowledged. So acknowledging a client brings the interaction to a human level.
Although you may feel the knee jerk reaction of skipping this step and heading right to a solution because you want to help Dennis, resist the temptation. If you skip ahead and address the problem technically without first acknowledging it emotionally, the client will most likely become closed off to you, maybe even resentful. Dennis won’t be open to hearing the technical solution because he’ll be completely focused on getting you to understand and acknowledge the trouble you’ve caused him.
In addition, it is quite important that you do not take on responsibility or liability for Dennis’s concerns without thinking through the consequences. Just because Dennis is an unhappy client doesn’t mean that you should take on responsibility beyond what has been promised to the client. Be very careful that you don’t agree to liability that doesn’t already exist if you’re not prepared to follow through, or aren’t 100% sure about how to follow through.
Lastly, be sure not to paint your teammates as the scapegoats. Don’t tell Dennis that the tech guys are jerks and can never seem to keep the servers running smoothly and meeting capacity. This will only serve to ramp up Dennis’s agitation even more and his distrust of Servers Plus will grow exponentially. You’ve also just established yourself as a client service rep who isn’t a team player.
Know this: It’s impossible for you to look good if the team doesn’t look good.
The converse is also true: If the team looks good, then I look good.
Step 3: Recommit
Following the identification and acknowledgement of Dennis’s concerns, you’ll get the chance to recommit to helping him with his concerns. Servers Plus will continue to be the company that will meet – and exceed – Dennis’s needs and expectations.
As discussed in the acknowledgement step, it’s tempting to make excuses or place blame on other members of the team in an effort to make ourselves look like the hero.
Dennis truly doesn’t care about your personal reputation. He’s called the Servers Plus team, not you. Blaming the problem on your coworkers doesn’t make you look better. In fact, all it does is show the client our weakness as a team.
In order to strengthen the client’s view of the company, be sure to recommit on behalf of the whole team. Recommitting can be as simple as saying, “This is not the standard we strive for here. We need to fix this and, as a member of this team, I am committed to getting it fixed for you.” This identifies a certain standard and recommits to living up to that standard.
Now you’ve put yourself on Dennis’s personal team and let him know that you have his back as a team member. Think of it like this: you want Dennis to see you as seated right beside him in the trenches and not with something separating the two of you.
Skipping recommitment has a negative impact on the client because the concern always feels significant to them no matter how simple or easy it is to fix. Clients sometimes overreact in the initial exchange because they’ve become so emotionally invested in the problem that they can do nothing but overreact.
But if you take the time to step back, acknowledge Dennis’s pain and recommit to addressing and fixing his concern as a fellow team member, his attitude may soften considerably. Even if he doesn’t say so, he’ll probably realize that he underestimated your dedication and may even apologize for being harsh. As a result, a stronger connection can be established based on trust and integrity.
The timing of your recommitment is crucial. You must recommit before taking action but after acknowledging the client’s concerns. Why? Because if you take action immediately after hearing the complaint, the client will perceive that your action is a result of their complaint. They will be incented to complain (and maybe even be angry) every time they want you to do something.
Instead, acknowledge and recommit before you act. The client will perceive that your action is a result of your recommitment. This trains the client to ask for your commitment when they want something done, and will make future interactions with the client more pleasant and rewarding.
Step 4: Gather Information
After recommitting to Dennis, you’ll finally get the chance to ask some objective questions and find out the circumstances behind Dennis’s issue. This is the technical side of the equation and has nothing to do with the emotional concerns.
In your questions, be as specific as possible and remember to listen, not just hear. You’ll find that Dennis’s answers may give rise to other, more clarifying questions.
Some of the questions you can ask will be clarifying questions like… What were the exact steps you took when the issue occurred?
How did you discover the issue? How should it work?
Steer clear of any questions that are connected to the assignment of blame. These aren’t helpful because they undo the acknowledgement you’ve just given.
Step 5: Plan for Action
You’ve listened to the complaint, recognized the impact your client has incurred, recommitted on behalf of your team, and gathered the specific information necessary to devise a plan.
A good plan not only identifies the specific steps that must take place to resolve the client’s concerns, but it also is very clear on when it will be done and by whom. Be crystal clear about how you’re going to attack the situation, and whom you need to get involved. Include communication points so that you know when (or at least under which circumstances) you’ll update the client. And make sure that every step has a specific date and time on which it will be finished. Remember: A promise without a deadline isn’t really a promise, but rather is just a dream.
Resolving the issue may take considerable time and effort. In such a situation, it may make sense to first eliminate the impact and then resolve the underlying cause of the problem. This will give the client more immediate results and reduce the pressure to perform. But be sure to follow through with the entire plan. If you fail to eliminate the underlying cause you won’t have a sympathetic client calling again with the same problem.
It may turn out that you must involve other people in this plan. It’s now your job to get them enrolled in helping you to deliver on the promises you made earlier on behalf of the company. Bringing in other people DOES NOT relieve you of your recommitment to Dennis; you’ve just brought more teammates on board to help out.
You are now responsible on two fronts: the promise you made to Dennis to fix his issue and the promise your teammates have made to help out. To maintain trust and integrity with Dennis, it’s critical for you to remain engaged and involved even if you’re waiting for a team member to report back to you.
Because you’ve put yourself on the line with the client, now is not the time to “wing it”. If you’re having trouble creating a plan in which you have confidence, or you can’t seem to enroll those teammates whom you need to help deliver on the plan, escalate the situation to your supervisor.
Step 6: Manage Anxiety
After forming a plan for action, Dennis may still be experiencing anxiety as he awaits word of when the servers will be back up and he can, once again, conduct business and pay his employees.
This is where consistent communication will be your best friend. Keep your clients informed at all times. Provide your client with dates for completion and a regular diet of status updates – this prevents any further anxiety from taking hold. Be clear about the steps needed to complete the resolution of his concerns and how you’re enlisting the help of teammates.
Clearly establish with Dennis how often you’ll be getting back to him. He may require updates every hour and, if that’s the case, make sure to do that. Providing as many status updates as Dennis needs, when you said you would provide them, will help to reduce anxiety and reinforce Dennis’s trust about Servers Plus’s integrity.
Once you’ve called Dennis with updates consistently throughout the day, he may relax more and say the hourly updates are no longer required.
It’s all about Dennis’s level of anxiety. Making a future promise is always okay. Broken past promises are not. With a broken past promise, anxiety increases until the concern is fully and completely resolved. Managing client anxiety is key.
Unresolved anxiety is the single biggest cause for a client to invest time and money into creating a new relationship with a different company. If you don’t use communication to manage Dennis’ anxiety, he will, most likely, start looking for a company that can satisfy his needs and quell the anxiety.
And you’ll have lost a good client – all because you didn’t feel like dialing a number one more time, or following up on that communication as you said you would….
Step 7: Deliver on the Promises You Made
After managing Dennis’s anxiety proactively – you called him 6 times in 6 hours and then emailed him as soon as the servers were back up and running with a plan for how to keep this problem from happening again in the future – you’ve managed to not only address all of his initial concerns but have ramped up the trust and integrity by delivering results and then making sure that the solution is permanent.
While it may come at the end, completion is the cornerstone of good client service. If you don’t finish what you start, you can’t possibly satisfy the client. And if you can’t even satisfy them, there’s no chance they’ll be loyal. In this instance, you and your team were able to assuage Dennis’s fears by committing to fixing his issues and then kept in close contact throughout the day.
Anxiety not only travels fast, it’s infectious. The better you manage the emotional reactions, address all issues and resolve all concerns, the more joy the client will feel.
Here’s how to measure the completion of the deliverable: Have you resolved Dennis’ concerns to his satisfaction? If it’s a resounding yes, then you and your team have done their jobs. You have converted anxiety into joy!
Furthermore, you definitely want to be present with your client as they experience the moment of joy that you’ve created for them, even if it’s only by phone.
For example, when Servers Plus calls Dennis to let him know that the email crisis is over and his website is up and running again, the Servers Plus representative tells him to check his email for a test message. When Dennis receives it and opens it, Servers Plus is there on the phone to experience Dennis’s moment of joy that his business is back on track. And if something goes wrong when Dennis tries to get his email, you’ve saved him the frustration of calling back.
If you haven’t completely resolved the client’s concern, you must continue to resolve the loose ends because, if you don’t, you’re likely to generate new anxiety which will come to a flash point even faster than the old anxiety because it’s merely a new layer of angst atop the original. DO NOT turn the heat off Dennis’s problem until every loose thread – including the threads of the team members you enlisted to help – are wrapped up and tucked in.
How we treat our client has an enormous impact on how the client treats us.
Being there for the client’s moment of joy not only makes absolutely sure that the client’s concern is resolved, but also sets us up for positive interactions with the client in the future. The next time the client calls us we’ll be his trusted team member, not his adversary.
Using Spectacular Service, we can view client complaints in a whole new light: rather than dreading them as awkward conversations or extra, we can now view them as opportunities. We get the chance to prove our dedication to clients in a way that wouldn’t have presented itself without the complaint.
When used effectively, this 7-part recipe delivers great results, including:
– Restoring integrity and workability into the client relationship
– Building loyalty within our clients because they can count on us
– Building our reputation as a reliable and trusted partner
– Making client interactions more fun – for the client and us
Start today by applying these seven steps to your client interactions, and see how you can turn a client’s anxiety into joy.
Special thanks to those who provided insightful feedback for this article, including: Jonathan Coupal, Lisa Daly, Rosanne Simiele, and Lisa Young.
© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.