Why the Customer is Always Right

Everyone has heard the saying, the customer is always right. But is it really true? For staff working in a call center, often the customer can be clearly in the wrong.

Maybe they have been late paying their phone bill, or have failed to update their address on their accounts and as a result not received a statement. A common problem is for customers to fail to pay their bills on time, and to find their services cut off, or a reminder form letter sent in the mail.

The call center agent is the first to hear from such a customer. The customer’s sense of injury is immense, even though technically speaking they may be in the wrong.

When the Customer is Technically in the Wrong

Here is a typical example of where the customer is technically in the wrong.

A credit card holder forgets to make a payment on their credit card. It’s been a hectic month. A sudden family illness has compounded problems. As a result of the non-payment, a block has been placed on the credit card. The block was only discovered when the customer’s card was declined at the head of a very long line at the supermarket, with $300 dollars worth of groceries in a trolley ready to go – the family’s food for the week.

The customer, besides being completely embarrassed with a long queue of impatient people looking disapprovingly on, had to forgo her purchase and leave the supermarket utterly humiliated.

In a furious mood, the customer calls the credit card company demanding an explanation for her humiliation. It is now the call center agent’s job to deliver the bad news. However, looking through the customer’s account, the agent feels entirely comfortable answering the call, as it is clear that a payment is missing on the account. The customer even admits, after a moment’s reflection, that she did indeed miss the bill.

Nonetheless, that is not important, as the customer goes on to highlight the indignity she suffered at the supermarket checkout. She then scoffs that the payment required was small, and considers it outrageous that her card should be blocked. Especially since she’s been with the credit company for over ten years. Doesn’t customer loyalty count for anything these days?

The Wrong Way to Respond to an Upset Customer

In this situation, it is tempting for the agent to respond in a technical, legalistic manner. The agent may say, “Mrs Smith, you missed your payment, therefore your account was clearly in arrears. If you disagree, refer to your conditions of use booklet. You’ll find it written clearly in chapter 5, subsection 2a. All accounts that are in default are immediately blocked. Have a nice day!”

Of course, technically the company employee is right. Yet the bulk of the call is dealing not so much with technical issues, as with emotional states of mind. The customer is clearly shaken and upset at her embarrassment in the store. She feels humiliated, and her feelings are real. The lesson here is: the customer’s emotions are always right.

How the Agent Should Respond to an Upset Customer

The best way to respond to this customer is to immediately address her emotional state. Her anger, frustration and feelings of humiliation are the most pressing points demanding attention. The last thing the customer wants to hear is nitpicking over what the company’s legal department has written in their conditions of use booklet.

The call center agent, after they have explained the problem to the customer, should immediately offer their consolations for the embarrassment that has been experienced. If possible, the agent can even relate a similar experience that has happened to them.

For example, the agent could say, “Oh, yes, I know. It’s awful to be in a line full of people when your card is rejected. It happened only recently to me and I could have died with all those people staring at me. So yes, I certainly know what you’re talking about.”

The customer will now feel like they’ve been listened to and their embarrassment understood. Once a rapport has been built, the agent can explain why the business blocks cards and make arrangements for the missing payment to be made.

The Customer is Always Right – Emotionally

The key to successfully dealing with customers is to remember that while they may not be technically right all the time, their emotional responses always are. If a customer is angry or upset, these are not feelings that are being made up. They are real, and must be responded to with understanding and empathy.

Once the customer feels that their feelings have been validated and understood, then the agent can explain the technical problems that have arisen on their accounts.


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February 2010
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