A customer calls in, weary of solving his own problems. You already hear the low customer respect in his tone.
“You don’t know what you’re doing. Can I get someone with more experience?”
The only words you remember saying were “how can I help you” and “I’m sorry about your issue,” hardly ushering in this onslaught of criticism. You probably feel like backbiting and emitting a stream of not-so-friendly thoughts that have built in your head.
Instead, try building up that customer’s respect. After all, you have to earn respect. You don’t just acquire it by default.
Give Fabulous First Impressions
You’ve probably heard that first impressions are everything, especially when it comes to customers. One Princeton study suggests that all you have is a tenth of a second to make a good first impression!
Psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov researched people’s first reactions to others in a picture. They showed their subjects the pictures for varying lengths of time. Some received a tenth of a second, half a second, or a full second to study and make judgments about a person’s character.
Then, the researchers asked the subjects to rate those people. They rated qualities such as trustworthiness, competence, likeability, and attractiveness. Willis and Todorov found that the subjects rated people’s character similarly, no matter how short or long they studied the pictures.
And the character qualities they most agreed upon? Attractiveness and trustworthiness.
No pressure! According to this research, you only have one tenth of a second to gain a person’s trust when you interact with them. If you can’t trust someone, you certainly can’t respect them.
So don’t blow the trust factor with the first apathetic “hello.” Try a cheery greeting that would make any sour customer smile in spite of themselves. If you’re meeting in person, dress your professional best and give warm eye contact. The little things are what matter in that split moment you have for first impressions.
Deliver on Your Promises
Nothing loses customer respect faster than unfulfilled promises. You’re better off never making the promise to begin with. But sometimes, promises are necessary. You’ll gain more respect all around if you can meet or exceed your promises every time.
Jacqueline Whitmore, Business Etiquette Expert who founded The Protocol School of Palm Beach, says, “Every time you make a commitment, you have the opportunity to raise or lower your credibility quotient. Your word is all you’ve got.”
This is especially true with customers. Customers might know about your company, but they don’t know you personally. They might not trust that you can get the job done. And the difference in customer service is that, if you don’t deliver on your promises, you make yourself and your company look bad.
Whitmore also suggests that you notify others if you can’t fulfill your promise. The more immediate you are in notifying them, the better they will take the news. Again, think twice before you make a personal promise. But if you absolutely have to, keep the customer updated and do your best to deliver.
Give Reflective Feedback
Ever call a company and go through an entire spill about your problem, only to have the customer service agent ask, “Could you repeat that please?” They obviously tuned you out somewhere.
When customers reach out to a company, they want answers, and thorough answers require listening ears. Tia Benjamin, from content marketing agency Studio D, suggests giving customers what she calls “reflective feedback.”
It’s simple. Listen attentively to the customer’s need and repeat the main points back to them.
When you use reflective feedback, you’re accomplishing more than one goal. You’re forcing yourself to catch important details and clarify the customer’s problem at the same time. Both goals help you solve the problem quickly and show your customer that you actually listened to their problem.
Customers contact your company because they want a human being to troubleshoot their problem. They don’t want an automated response. Even if you’re using a template as you talk with them, you have to make it personal. Speak human.
Content marketing consultant Brian Honigman suggests introducing yourself at the beginning and using the customer’s name when you’re speaking with them. You should also talk as if they’re standing right in front of you. You’ll sound more genuine, helping the customer trust your solutions.
Being a real person to your customers rather than a distant business will attract them back later. The 2011 Customer Service Impact survey showed that 86% of customers will dish out more money for better customer service. Also, when they return to a favorite brand, 73% are just looking for friendly service agents.
Customers want a company that cares. If you show them that you do, they’ll assume you also care about a quality product. That’s how you keep them coming back, and that’s how you earn customer respect.
Find Patience (it’s out there)
Sometimes, people will push your buttons. The best agents will overlook that angry prodding and find ways to solve problems anyway. They practice patience in these hot situations.
Entrepreneur and corporate leader consultant Glenn Llopis suggests empathizing with the customer. Think about why he is angry. Maybe he hasn’t received a helpful answer in the last five calls he has made to your company.
When you think about the customer’s viewpoint, you’ll find yourself solving problems faster. And I suspect that you’ll scrounge up some patience too.
Llopis also mentions searching for advice when you can’t handle the situation. A trusted colleague or manager might give you exactly the insight you need to gracefully deal with the problem. Or your manager may even address the customer himself.
I asked for help often as a phone agent if I ran out of patience with a customer. I would place the customer on hold to “research their problem.” Then, I would ask my manager how to handle them.
In the worst case scenarios, I was told precisely what to say, my manager standing close by in case I needed further help. Knowing when I needed some guidance played a huge part in gaining that customer’s respect.
Be an Optimist
You’re swamped with angry customers because of your company’s new software kinks. Staying positive over and over when the whole world woke up on the wrong side of the bed proves challenging. But you’ll earn great customer respect if you do. Resist the urge to lay down the law.
Michael F. Scheier and Charles S. Carver broke ground in their 1985 research on the power of positivity. They presented three tests to college undergraduates about their health, self-awareness, and positivity. Scheier and Carver gave the subjects these tests about a month before the end of a semester and also again on the last day of class.
They found that the positive students reported fewer health issues than their pessimistic classmates. The researchers weren’t surprised by these results.
But Sheier admits that there’s even more to optimism than better health. He says, “Optimists are not simply being Pollyannas; they’re problem solvers who try to improve the situation. And if it can’t be altered, they’re also more likely than pessimists to accept that reality and move on.”
See how optimism can build customer respect? Your positive attitude will drive you to find solutions to a customer’s problem. You’ll become their hero, earning their trust and respect in the process.
Denyse Drummond-Dunn, a marketing and consumer consultant, says, “To be valued you need to first give value.”
Most of the time, you don’t earn customer respect by focusing on respect itself. You earn respect by meeting needs. If a customer leaves empty-handed, you haven’t given them anything to gain their respect.
You give a customer value when you take their problem seriously and help them use your product to its fullest extent. If a customer asks how to use your company’s software, walk them through the software step by step. Point them to your company’s online resources and email them notes for future reference.
Let the customer know that you are dedicated to their problem. You will most definitely earn his respect when you do.
A great way to earn customer respect is to show gratitude. Brian Honigman recommends saying “thank you” to every customer. Even if the customer contacts you out of pure frustration, you can lighten the tension when you thank him.
Of course, you should find something valid to thank customers for. Don’t thank them for improving your patience. They probably won’t consider it a compliment.
But you can always thank customers for contacting your company or bringing their problem to your attention. They will appreciate your kindness and maybe even thank you back.
Gain Customer Respect
When you earn customer respect as a service agent, you’re doing volumes for your company. You’re helping them gain loyal customers who deeply trust your brand and quality. So the next time you have to deal with a difficult customer, put on your happy face and solve his problem quickly. You’ll be well on your way to earning his respect.
Sarah George is a flower–sniffing, homemade–cooking wordsmith who loves pounding out breathless stories until they fill with life. In her spare time, she loves designing her home with thrilling thrift finds and challenging herself with a good workout.