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Speed Review: The Customer Service Survival Kit

Speed Review: The Customer Service Survival Kit

Speed Review: The Customer Service Survival Kit

What to Say to Defuse Even the Worst Customer Situations

by Richard S. Gallagher

The Customer Service Survival Kit explains how to use the right words to turn volatile scenarios into calm and productive customer encounters. Anyone can learn this delicate art with the book's blend of clear techniques, lessons from behavioral science, case studies, situation-specific advice, and practice exercises.


Control Your Customer Service Emergencies

Customer service people are doomed to face what customer service expert Richard Gallagher calls "uh-oh" moments: those moments when visibly (or audibly) angry customers let you know exactly how they feel about your product or service and demand a response. The problem, Gallagher writes in The Customer Service Survival Kit, is that many if not most customer service personnel don’t know how to respond in the most effective way.

One of the first reactions of customer service personnel in front of angry customers is to defend themselves — either by explaining policies or procedures or explaining that the situation is exceptional and not typical of the company’s results.

The second choice of customer service personnel is to respond to the complaint, which may seem a logical choice but is also often ineffective.

What, then, are customer service people to do? In The Customer Service Survival Kit, Gallagher, a former customer support executive and a practicing psychotherapist who has written a number of books on customer service, provides precise, step-by-step responses for dealing with the most difficult customer service situations.

Lean Into Criticism

Gallagher’s first piece of advice is for the customer service person to "lean" into the criticism of the customer. Instead of trying to make excuses — what Gallagher calls "leaning away" from the complaints — customer service personnel should plunge headlong into the person’s grievances. "Be right there with every bit of anger and indignation he is feeling," Gallagher writes. "And then watch what happens."

What happens, according to Gallagher, is the customer realizes that you "get" him, and that realization is enough to diffuse the customer’s raw anger.

Of course, leaning in is not as easy as it sounds. Gallagher offers four steps for leaning in. First, hand the complaint back to the customer. If a customer complains about a horrible kitchen painting job, the customer service person should say, "It sounds like this paint job did not work for you at all. Tell me more about what went wrong." The next step is to use "wow" words, as in "That’s awful!" The third step is to "steal their good lines" — for example, telling the customer who wants the super-popular Christmas toy that is sold out, "I bet you drove all the way here just to get this." The fourth step is for customer service people to never defend themselves first, even if the customer is wrong.

Leaning in is just the first of a variety of techniques, tools and responses covered by Gallagher. Other topics include using the four-step ladder of acknowledgment, avoiding trigger phrases (e.g., don’t say "I understand," even if you do), delivering bad news in the safest way possible and reframing the message around the customer’s interest. Many of the chapters end with "putting learning into practice" exercises to reinforce the techniques of the chapters. In the final section, Gallagher addresses specific situations, including the threat of a lawsuit, or responding to criticism in social media. The Customer Service Survival Kit is a practical manual that will help even the least experienced and least courageous customer service person survive the next shakingly angry customer.

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