Challenging customer support situations are a part of the job in customer service. They can vary from customers asking for a discount you can’t give, a service or a feature you cannot provide, or a customer having a problem with your service or product which can take some time to resolve.
How you manage the situation is part of building your brand as a business. When you handle the situation carefully while respecting your customers and being as truthful as you can with them, this will help you control the damage or even leverage it into something good. Your brand is not only about marketing. It’s also about your company’s voice. The way you communicate with your customers.
When you communicate with positive intentions and empathy, it makes it easier for your customers to hear why you can’t accommodate their needs immediately.
Learning to deal with difficult situations and unsatisfied customers while staying professional will help you turn challenging situations into relationship-building opportunities.
Mindful and empathic customer service
When having a tricky interaction with a customer, it’s most helpful to learn how to take a moment and be mindful of your reactions, and then put yourself in your customer’s shoes and communicate with empathy and compassion.
Be mindful and apply self-compassion
When having a conversation with an angry customer we all have these moments where we might get caught up in our feelings. What happens is that rather than showing empathy, we find ourselves defensive, judgmental, offended, or stressed, which only escalates the situation.
It’s difficult to show empathy to other people when you are feeling challenged.
The first step towards showing empathy to others is to be mindful of your feelings.
Being mindful is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness is a quality that every human being already possesses, you just have to learn how to access it.
The second step towards being empathetic to others, is to treat yourself with empathy.
According to Kristin Neff, Ph.D, a self-compassion expert, we replace self-criticism with self-understanding when we talk to ourselves kindly with sentences like:
“This is a difficult moment right now,” “Everyone has moments like this,” or “May I be kind to myself at this moment.”
We accept that we are just human, and we will inevitably make mistakes, react or get stressed.
Once you apply self-compassion it becomes easier to extend this understanding to others.
Communicating with empathy can enhance your customer’s satisfaction and loyalty, even when you cannot provide them with the solution they are after.
However, it’s essential to know the difference between empathy and sympathy, which can seem similar but are very different.
Sympathy means feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune while empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
While empathy strengthens human bonds and turns unhappy customers into loyal customers, sympathy creates an uneven power dynamic and can lead to more isolation and disconnection.
“Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”
– Dr. Brené Brown. (Watch Brené Brown on Empathy.)
The following pointers may help you distinguish between the two:
- Sympathy often involves judgment, while empathy has none.
- Sympathy involves understanding from your perspective, while empathy is about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and understanding their perspective.
- Sympathy sounds something like “I’m sorry you feel this way,” which may be interpreted as judgmental and putting the blame on the other person. Empathy sounds like “I can understand how it feels. It must be hard”, or “I would feel the same if this happened to me.”
6 best practices for mindful customer support and how a shared inbox software can help
When using asynchronous communication methods like email, you have the advantage of time. Time allows you to pause and be more mindful so you can respond rather than react.
It gives you the space to visit your protocols and templates and choose your words wisely while consulting with other team members internally. You can prepare a draft and get back to it later or ask other teammates to review the suggested reply before sending it to the customer.
Shared inbox software solutions, such as Replypad, gives you the right set of tools that help you implement the following best practices:
1. Be prepared for any scenario.
Have predefined template replies for any challenge you face, so you won’t need to think of the right words every time which is especially helpful with demanding customers and in busy times. It allows you to improve response times and be more productive and consistent.
Whenever you face a new situation, you can prepare additional templates that will be available for you and the entire team next time such a situation arises.
For example, a customer sends a request for a new feature, which is excellent; however, it will not be possible to add to your product in the near future. You can create a template to help you reply in such situations, with tools that let you use placeholders to include details like the customer’s first name. Then you can add the specifics of the request, ensuring that the customer sees you understand their point of view and are considering the proposal seriously.
We elaborate and give some examples on how to reply with empathy later in this article.
2. Be responsive with auto-replies.
Automated replies are sent immediately to customers, informing them that their request was received. You can customize automatic responses to ensure the reply sounds personal, which helps the customer to feel reassured and less anxious.
3. Communicate frequently with the customer.
Be transparent and share a realistic timeframe for a solution with your customer, but don’t make something up that could come back to bite you. Sending constant updates and using scheduled responses, where updates are sent automatically to the customer on a scheduled time, help assure your customers that you’re on it.
4. Communicate internally.
Communicating internally keeps everyone in the loop regarding customer feedback and issues.
- Add product managers, developers, and technical staff as followers or post internal notes whenever you want them to be aware of specific requests and issues. You may get some insights that will help you resolve the problem faster.
- Collaborate on drafts and let other people on your team review them and ensure that you send the best response to the customer.
5. Track trends.
Labeling and categorizing conversations with customers helps you track repetitive issues and common requests, so you can analyze your support database to find trends, improve your product or service to prevent such problems from happening again, and become more efficient when dealing with these situations.
6. Publish a post-mortem or retrospective.
Review the conversation’s history, discuss internally and publish a summary that outlines the problem, the steps performed to resolve the issue, and the steps you’re taking to prevent it in the future. You can send the summary to your team and to the customer, with another sincere apology when required, to help them see you are handling the event seriously and taking measures to prevent it from happening again.
How to express empathy in customer support emails
In email customer support, what you say and how you phrase it are just as important as how quickly you reply. Apply the following principles when you craft your responses to ensure professional and empathic replies:
1. Use active listening techniques.
Frustrated or angry customers first need to be heard and listened to. Active listening is the best tool when it comes to a demanding customer.
When communicating via email, listening means you read their message attentively and reflect on what they are saying with, “What I understand that you are saying is…,” followed by a recap of their issue.
Make sure to relate to what they are saying and ask all the questions you need to get to the point where you understand their issue.
2. Use positive phrases.
Use positive phrases and terms to show them that you care:
“Great question,” “I understand,” “I can do that for you,” and “I appreciate your patience”
Avoid using negative words like:
“I’ve never heard of this issue before,” “I don’t know,” “No, it’s not possible,” “I’m not sure,” and “Please calm down.”
3. Express gratitude.
Thank your customer for sending you their request or issue with something like:
“Thank you” or “I appreciate you bringing this to our attention.”
Let them know that you value their input and would love to accommodate their needs because you value them as customers. Something like:
“We just wanted to say thank you for the last year of working together. We’re so grateful you’ve chosen us to go on this ride with you — it’s been amazing to see your business grow and we thank you for giving us the opportunity to help you reach your achievements!”
4. Show empathy.
Use sentences that express empathy, especially if the customer is facing a problematic issue and is showing signs of anxiety. Perhaps phases like:
“I understand” or “I would feel the same if this happened to me.”
Acknowledging how a situation might feel if it happened to you will make your customer feel seen and understood and lower their resistance and anxiety levels.
Apologize to the customer for what they are going through, no matter the problem or reason. An apology can help them move past their anger and seek a solution to the immediate problem. If your first action is to take responsibility for the customer’s problem and make it your duty to present a solution, customers would respond differently.
When you apologize, keep it simple and stick to the facts. Offer action plans, financial reimbursement, discounts, exclusive access to something, or any other idea you have. Acknowledge any mistakes on your side, and work on rebuilding trust.
Consider using sentences like:
“I want to apologize for XXX.”, “Our team tries to offer high-quality customer service, but we failed this time.”
“I realize it’s frustrating to wait for XXX. We’re all aware of what happened and will take extra care in the future.”
and “As an additional apology, we’re sending you XXX.”.
6. Explain why you are saying no.
Customers don’t like to hear “no.” however, you will inevitably encounter situations where you need to do that. Whether it’s a customer service agent that cannot further assist, a sales rep that cannot offer the requested discount, or a product manager that would not implement their suggestion.
When a customer asks for a discount or a service or feature you cannot provide, don’t just turn them down. Instead, make it clear what you are saying “no” to and what you are saying “yes” to, and use it as an opportunity to reinforce the value of your product.
For example, you can explain that by saying “no” to a feature request, you are doing your best to keep the product easy to use and your support team efficient to keep providing excellent customer support.
You may also consider sharing your considerations. Something like:
“We value your feedback and build our product based on the feedback you send. Our current strategic plans do not allow us to accommodate this request, and we will surely add it to the customer requests list for future consideration.”
7. Offer a workaround if one exists.
Prepare well written canned replies with common workarounds to easily send a suggestion to the customer and provide the functionality they want in your product as a workaround until you find a better solution.
8. Don’t forget to be personal.
Be sure to relate to the specific request the customer is raising and add a personal reference in your reply so it doesn’t feel like a template reply.
Working with customers every day brings a lot of responsibilities and challenges to anyone working directly with customers.
Being empathic is key and using the right tools, e.g., a shared inbox software solution, helps teams deliver personalized customer service and provide excellent customer experiences at scale.
Replypad is a shared inbox software solution designed from the ground up to help customer-facing teams make customers happy. It offers the right tools to correctly handle complex and challenging cases, even during busy times when you have to deal with plenty of requests simultaneously. You can try it out with your team for free, with a simple setup and straightforward interface, and you will be enjoying the benefits very quickly.