Working with organizations for over 25 years to transform customer service culture, I've discovered that some employees and staff -- who would describe themselves as solid performers -- have a habit of delivering more excuses than results. Unfortunately, your customers and members don't buy excuses -- literally. The more your team members rationalize poor service, the more they'll cost your organization in trust equity. See if your staff and volunteers use any of these six common customer or membership service excuses. We'll start with the worst offenders:
1. "It's Against Policy"
Customer service policies must make obvious sense to customers and members. If not, overly restrictive and outdated rules practically invite customers and members to argue with staff or rant about your brand in social media. Set your policies around what's best for your brand and best for customer loyalty and membership retention. Don't let lawyers establish your customer service policies. If you must have an unpopular policy, ensure that your staff understands it, can get behind it, and can easily explain it to customers and members. More importantly, train and empower frontline staff and volunteers to overrule policies when common sense dictates.
2. "Our shipping people messed-up"
Customers have zero patience for service providers who blame foul-ups on someone else; be it on co-workers in another department, or external suppliers/contractors who are part of your supply chain. Blaming others makes customers and members assume they'll get the proverbial run-around and intensifies their aggravation, making a bad situation worse. So, take the opposite approach -- accept responsibility. Say, "Looks like we messed-up. I'm sorry about that." Most customers realize it wasn't you who made the error, and they'll respect the fact that you are nonetheless stepping-up to own it.
3. "We're swamped this time of year"
This excuse is similar to the recorded on-hold phone message you hear from call centers: "Due to high call volumes..." Essentially this excuse tells customers and members that the organization has experienced this problem repeatedly, but (since they don't really care that much about customer experience) hasn't bothered to do anything to fix it. That's better left unsaid. Best to simply thank the customer or member for their patience, and get on with what you can do for them.
4. "I'm not authorized to do that"
In my customer service seminars, we talk about employee status, and how it's a mistake to put a customer or member at a higher or lower status than the service provider. Instead, you want staff to be viewed by customers as their trusted advisors. So, when you need to ask higher-ups for input, explain to the member that you want to look into this further to see what you can come up with. Then discretely discuss the matter with your supervisor. When you report back to the customer afterward, tell them "Here's what I came up with." That makes members feel like they're dealing with an equal; not wasting their time.
5. "I assumed you wanted..."
Members want service providers to help them make decisions. And in the case where members view you as their trusted advisor, they even want you to make decisions on their behalf. But that only works when the service provider has discussed the member's needs and overall objectives. We earn the right to make assumptions after talking with the member or customer and gaining their respect. Paraphrase your understanding of their needs with the words like "sounds like." For example, "Sounds like you'd like to..." After you've done that, members will be much more comfortable and confident with your assumptions.
6. "Sorry, I'm new here"
Actually, in this case customers and members will accept this excuse, which is why I put it last. Customers and members can be wonderfully compassionate when a newbie, who realizes something is taking longer than it should, apologizes for the delay and explains the situation. Tip: rather than saying bear with me (which sounds like an order), instead say I appreciate your patience. For example, "Sorry for the delay, this is my first week here. I appreciate your patience with me." Now the customer feels like a hero for being nice.
In every organization things will occasionally go wrong that put customer and member relationships at risk. The key to preserving the customer / member connection is ensuring frontline staff and volunteers are trained to recover trust. As for directors and other managers, revisit your policies to ensure they don't force staff and volunteers to automatically say no to customers and members when instead they should be looking for ways to say yes. After all, if you don't satisfy that customer or member, your competitor will. Then you'll have bigger problems where excuses won't matter.
This article is based on the bestselling book, Becoming a Service Icon in 90 Minutes a Month by Hall of Fame motivational speaker, Jeff Mowatt. To obtain your own copy of his book or to inquire about engaging Jeff for your team, visit www.jeffmowatt.com.
Speaking of branding, are you aware that Jeremy Miller is conducting an upcoming branding workshop in Toronto? The Sticky Branding Workshop: How to Spark Member Engagement & Multiply Your Impact is designed to help associations better understand their brand and how to better position and leverage it (among other valuable topics.) Don't miss it!