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On Service: The Power of Empathy

Handling an upset client the right way can mean the difference between losing that customer forever and having them share their great experience with prospective clients.  Worse yet, you never know when you might be talking to a blogger.  If you upset a blogger like Jeff Jarvis whose unpleasant run in with Dell prompted a not so friendly blog post, you can see how just one person can hurt your company’s bottom line with one mishandled customer complaint.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

It’s going to happen.  While it’s rare to get an unhappy customer on the phone at FreshBooks, it’s our job is to ensure that by the time the call ends, the client is as happy as possible. Sometimes a customer might call and ask for something completely unreasonable or demand a change to our service that will only fit their own needs and will complicate everyone else’s system.

What do you do in this case?

1. One thing to help defuse the situation is to let them know that you understand their concern and that you have listened to their complaint.  You can’t just say “I understand your concern, but.” this involves really listening to their complaint and even repeating their concerns in your own words.  You want to make sure that they know that you understand why they are upset.

2. After you have fully understood their concern, you should have a good idea of why they are upset.  Letting your client know that you agree with them is also another method to help defuse the situation.  However, you have to mean it and really put yourself in their shoes.

3. If you have already done everything in your power to make the situation right and your client is still not happy, let them know you have forwarded it for consideration to someone with more power (upper management?).  It is important not to reject any idea no matter how crazy it may be.  Everything should be open for discussion and every idea should at least be considered as a minimum.

I hope these tips help and I will share some more with you on our next edition of “On Service”.  Remember, you never know when your client is the next “Jeff Jarvis” so treat all calls and emails as if they were.

This post is a second in a series we are calling “On Service” where we will be sharing some lessons we have learned over the past few years.


  • table

    Daniel, I’d like to start off by stating that I’m a fan of Freshbooks and from what I’ve read here and on the forum, you seem like a very intelligent guy so please don’t take what I’m about to write as a personal attack.

    Having been a manager I recognize the “empathy technique” and although your interpretation isn’t as phony it’s still dishonest and smells of “fakery”. Here’s why:

    “Customer service” is not what it used to be. Companies no longer care about actually providing good customer service. They only care about the illusion of providing good customer service. It’s so bad that most large corporations now outsource their customer service strategies to marketing companies that come up with scripts or customer service cycles without fully understanding the target market.

    By saying that you will not reject any idea, no matter how crazy it is, you basically prove my point. Some ideas should not be considered and customers should be told the truth even if it may upset them.

    Sugarcoating or outright lying might save customers in the short-term but it’s still not good customer service. Perhaps you truly are empathetic but forced empathy or forced sympathy isn’t good for anyone.

    If you follow a script or believe that you must be empathetic ALL the time then you’re just going through the motions. That’s not empathy. Granted, your company is much different than large corporations such as Rogers and Bell. If you call them to complain I’m sure one of their agents will apologize and empathize with you. But do you think they really care?

    Good customer service involves honesty and integrity. Empathy is good too but if you believe that you must follow a script, such as repeating customers problems in their own words, you risk going down a dark path. If you force others to do it you’ll end up having customer service on par with AOL.

  • http://www.freshbooks.com Daniel Tsang

    Hi Table,

    Thanks for the comment and I am happy to hear you are a fan of FreshBooks.

    I am sorry to hear the empathy tip I described seemed a little fake or dishonest to you. Personally, when I handle support calls, I want to help the person on the other line. This also means hiring support representatives that actually like talking and helping people. As a result, when I empathize with the client, I really feel bad since we can’t offer him what he/she wants and it is not in any way dishonest or fake.

    When I say that you should not reject any idea and put it under “consideration” this means not flatly saying “No” that will not be considered. This means saying to management after the call “A client was upset because we didn’t offer x and y.” It is then up to the management to say, “Yeah, that’s going to be bad for all our other users so we probably should not do it. Add it to our feature request list so we have a record of it for future consideration.”

    I am not advocating forced empathy and generally if you hire the right people they will be empathic with the people they talk to. So really, I’m with you on providing custom support based on honesty and integrity.

    Just for the record, we don’t have any telephone scripts here at FreshBooks besides “Good morning/afternoon/evening, FreshBooks” when answering the phone.

    Cheers,

    -Daniel

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  • http://katenasser.com Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach

    Many thanks Daniel for being another voice for great caring customer service. For 20 years I have delivered and taught customer service. Empathy does make a difference –true empathy which includes stepping outside of your perspective and into the customers’.
    Ditch the scripts and learn how to verbalize empathy and caring. Customers respect a sincere tone of caring from knowledgeable agents who makes the recovery process EZ. Behind these agents you must have company/management commitment to ethical service and sounds products.
    Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach
    This coming week I will have a blog post on this topic.

  • http://www.freshbooks.com/our-team.php#daniel Daniel Tsang

    @Kate,

    Hi Kate. I’m happy to hear from you and thanks for the support. I look forward to reading your blog post and I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed on your website. Thanks Kate.


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