Ask The Customer Service Talking Head

I am said talking head in the bottom right corner of the screen.

I am said talking head in the bottom right corner of the screen.

One distinct benefit of writing this blog and being considered a customer service “thought leader” is that I get to rub elbows with some gifted trainers and public speakers.  These are two things I don’t consider myself to be naturally gifted at.  Nonetheless, I jump at any opportunity to gain experience.

A good friend of mine recently asked me to give a presentation via Google+ Hangout to a group of university library student workers that she manages.  In a true rookie mistake, I thought I could cram about two hours of material into one hour.  I guess that’s where practice comes in.

While the session was a success, I didn’t cover all of the material I wanted to cover.  Now I’m going to take a few moments to share the key points from my presentation.  My points were prompted by questions the attendees asked prior to the session.

How Do I Avoid Saying No To Customers?

I was delighted that someone asked this question and I spent most of the session sharing all of the wonderful alternatives to saying no to our customers.  Here are a few of the stories I shared:

  • Too easy to say no– A customer service representative could think they did right by canceling a customer’s account efficiently but did they do everything they could to get to the root of the customer’s issue and solve their problem?
  • No is easier than effort– In customer service, sometimes no is the easy way out.  Awesome customer service requires effort!
  • A free box from Staples– Read this amazing story about how Staples gave Jenny a box from the back that they don’t even sell!
  • Walk in specialists– Rather than saying they don’t take reservations, Corvette diner told me that they are “walk in specialists.”  That’s a creative way not to say no!

In summary, this is about a deep desire to do business with customers.  By scratching and clawing to find a solution to meet your customers’ needs, you keep them as a customer and prevent them from taking their business elsewhere.  As the face of your company to that customer, you build a valuable connection with that customer and it’s made that much stronger when they see the effort you are putting forth on their behalf.

How Do I Work With Difficult Coworkers?

Who doesn’t have a difficult coworker?  Here are some things to consider when working with others:

  • Internal Customer Service- It is important to treat our coworkers or “internal customers” in the same way we would treat our best customers.  Don’t take them for granted.  Practice your awesome customer service skills on your coworkers often!  This quote from Jan Carlzon sums it up:

If you aren’t serving customers directly, you are likely serving someone who is.

  • The Emotional Bank Account- In the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey presents this amazing concept.  A positive word to another is like making a deposit into their emotional bank account.  A negative word is a withdrawal.  The more deposits you make, the less of an impact the occasional withdrawal will make.
  • StrengthsFinder- I am a huge fan of StrengthsFinder.  It’s essential to gain self awareness of your own unique strengths.  Then you can learn about the strengths of others.  This is invaluable when you have to work with those people regularly!

How Do I Work With Difficult Customers?

This is a huge training course in and of itself.  There will always be difficult customers.  As a recovering hot head, it took me a long time to stop taking any attacks or insults from such customers personally.  That is step number one!  They are most likely frustrated at the problem and not at you!

Jenny Dempsey has a terrific method for dealing with difficult customers called L.A.M.B.  Very simply, this is Listen, Acknowledge and Apologize, Make it Better, and Boost Improvement.  Try that simple method next time you have a difficult customer on the line.

How Do I Manage The Silence While I’m Looking Something Up For A Customer?

This is a great etiquette question for all customer service professionals to consider.  Silence can be really awkward but at the core of this is the importance of communicating expectations.  At the outset of any encounter, do your best to make a connection with your customer.  Learn their name, talk about the weather, whatever.  Just find a way to break the ice before getting down to business.

When the customer states their request, set clear expectations.  Make a statement like “Thank you for your request.  Give me about two minutes to look this up for you.”  Don’t say “One sec…” and then proceed to not say anything for the next five minutes.

Remember that it’s ok to smile and throw in some small talk.   A reassuring comment like “Thank you for bearing with me on this!” can never hurt.


What questions do you have for the customer service talking head?  Hit me with your best shot!


Jeremy Watkin is a Product Marketing Manager at 8x8. He has more than 19 years of experience as a customer service professional leading high performing teams in the contact center. Jeremy has been recognized numerous times as a thought leader for his writing and speaking on a variety of topics including quality management, outsourcing, customer experience, contact center technology, and more. When not working you can typically find him spending quality time with his wife Alicia and their three boys, running with his dog, or dreaming of native trout rising for a size 16 elk hair caddis. Be sure to connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

One comment

  • This was a great training session Jeremy, and thanks again! I only wish we could have made it through more of your material. I think the real value for the students was the discovery that their weird, awkward, and even good experiences do not exist in a vacuum- customer service is part of everyone’s job and there are creative solutions to many service problems that arise. It definitely helped us think outside the box and hopefully we can be more proactive instead of reactive.

    Keep being awesome!

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