5 Tips To Make A Prickly Situation Beautiful by Jeremy Watkin


When I was a teenager, I remember hearing my parents talk about birds or flowers and would instantly roll my eyes and check out of the conversation. Could anything be more boring?

Now, as I rapidly approach the big four oh, I find myself doing the exact same thing—talking about birds and flowers. Before you totally check out, stay with me. I’m going to somehow tie this to your life.

Lately, I’ve become total infatuated with cactus flowers. I’m a pine tree and mountain meadow sort of guy, so your run of the mill cactus really has absolutely no appeal to me whatsoever—that is until the cactus flower entered my life.

As you observe the stages of the cactus flowering process, it’s as if this ugly, prickly plant all of a sudden sprouts a wart or a zit or something. As if the cactus couldn’t get any uglier, right? Then, just when all hope is lost, the flower blooms and it is an absolute work of art. In my humble opinion, cactus flowers put roses to shame.

So I just spent four paragraphs telling you about cactus flowers. How in the world does this apply to customer service, business, and life? Great question!

If you are in customer service, you know full well that you will encounter prickly situations on a regular basis. You’ll hear enough insults and negative talk to ruin your day—if you let it. For those of you looking for longevity in your career, here are five simple tips to making those prickly encounters beautiful.

Stay Positive

Call center leaders love telling agents to keep a mirror at their desk as a reminder to smile as they answer every call. It’s easier said than done—especially by folks who don’t have to answer the phone all day, every day. But it’s really true. Make a decision to be positive, start with making your face smile, and your feelings will eventually follow.

How does your customer service garden grow? With lots of Possibility, Encouragement, Positivity and Trust, of course.
— Jenny Dempsey

Turn On The Charm

I’m not asking you to use your best pick up lines here. Keep it simple. Start with learning the customer’s name and using it multiple times throughout the encounter—in a natural way, of course.

Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
— Dale Carnegie

Use Empathy

Empathy is about genuinely identifying with the emotions and feelings of another human being. One of the most important things you can do to build a connection with your customer is to recognize that and respond accordingly. A simple “I am so sorry for this difficult situation. I would love to do my best to help with this” can go a long way to let your customer know you are right there with them.

In customer service when you strip everything away, what’s left should be people helping people…period.
— Jeremy Watkin

Don’t Get Defensive

As I point at you on this one, I realize there are three fingers pointed back at me. I am the king of defensive! The vast majority of your customers that are in prickly situations are angry at the problem, not at you. Don’t take their anger or frustration personally. It’s not even your job to defend the company. It’s your job to help the customer. If the customer needs to vent, let them!

You’re going to get the hard ones, and they’ll be pretty upsell by the time they get to you, so let ‘em go off if they need to.
— Adam Toporek

Focus On The Problem

As a continuation of number four, it’s ok to gently guide the situation toward a resolution. Keep your eyes focused on understanding the problem at hand and then working to find a solution to solve it. There’s a good chance the customer has already heard a “no, it can’t be done” from someone. This is your opportunity to be creative and overcome that no.

When customers give you lemons, make margaritas! Take their problems and turn them into tasty solutions! Cheers!
— Jenny Dempsey

I’ve used these five steps time and time again when working with customers. Prickly situations will arise…daily. Make it your mission with each difficult situation to be like a cactus and produce a beautiful flower.

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of AWESOME Customer Service at Phone.com and co-founder of CommunicateBetterBlog.com; a blog dedicated to learning about good and bad customer service with the intent of providing awesome customer service for Phone.com. Follow Jeremy on Twitter and LinkedIn. Jenny Dempsey and Adam Toporek quoted above as well

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