“You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” ~Grandma

Customer service has got to be one of the toughest jobs on the planet. I feel for customer service reps, really I do, and I try very hard to remember that they aren’t generally the cause of the problem when I have to deal with them. Usually, though, they do have the option of making a problem more or less of a challenge to resolve.

Each time I speak with a company for the purpose of customer service, I review the experience to see what I can learn from it.

I had a customer service experience this week that gave me pause for thought. I ordered a custom product some weeks ago for a conference of an organization that I was providing communications and design services for. I won’t go into all the frustrating details because, despite the fact that it is not a company I am likely to do business with again, I don’t know if this is a pattern and I’m not big on badmouthing.

The circumstances of my order required that I seek some customer assistance. When a ticket submission through their website received no response, I called and spent a lengthy period waiting to speak to a representative. The first representative I spoke with was not interested in any resolution of the problem. During the course of the conversation, I was advised that I should have read the website’s terms more carefully, that there was no such thing as a late order and it was implied that I was being less than truthful about prior attempts at communication. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. When I asked to speak with someone else, my request was refused. Ultimately, I was told if there was any way to resolve my issue in a positive manner, I would get a call back before the close of business.

vinegar and honey

To their credit, I did get a call back in an hour from another customer service representative but again no attempt was made to resolve the issue, with the same points reiterated as in my first conversation. Their connection was poor and when the call was dropped mid-sentence, no attempt was made to re-contact me.

I called back and again waited a lengthy period to speak with a representative. This time, I spoke with yet another representative. After explaining my story yet again, Representative #3 explained the reason for the delay. Though I wasn’t pleased that I wasn’t given the information at the time of ordering (giving me an option to make a different choice), I understood the limitations. Had I been told what the situation was on the first call, it might have been resolved much more quickly. Eventually, we were able to come to an arrangement, and I was able to receive the order in time to use it.

What did I learn from this customer service experience? Well, besides not wanting to deal with this company again, I did get a few takeaways—for both sides. Here are the five things I learned:


Document Your Transaction

This is actually something I’d learned many years ago working in the insurance industry. We were required to document everything we did and every conversation we had on each claim. I have found this habit to be immensely helpful over the years, if nothing else to help ME keep my facts straight.

Know Who You are Dealing With

If I had asked more questions going in to this transaction, I might have avoided some problems. It should be noted that the question I most needed to ask wasn’t one I knew I needed to ask and this is a common problem in business. I need to think of all the relevant confusions or complications that might arise for my clients and develop a plan for telling them what they don’t know they need to know for us to do business together.

The Benefit of the Doubt Never Hurts

No, the customer is NOT always right. Not by any stretch. Very often, the customer is wrong. However, telling a customer that they are lying to you isn’t going to make the problem any easier to resolve from either side. Even if you have doubts about what you are being told, there are certainly more tactful ways to express those doubts. If a lie is blatant, of course you may call them on it. That one goes both ways. But you can still do it tactfully.

Always Try for a Mutually Acceptable Resolution

A resolution that is ideal for both sides doesn’t always happen. A resolution that is acceptable for both sides usually is. That means both sides have to give a little and compromise. Holding your ground and insisting on “your way or the high way” probably won’t get you either a happy customer or a repeat one—and certainly not any good word of mouth. In the end of my case, I gave some and they gave some and the end result was that I got what I needed out of the deal.

Sometimes it Just Doesn’t Work

Sometimes, in the end, despite everyone’s efforts, it is necessary to part company. Accept that you cannot please everyone, but you can be civil and polite—on both sides—and walk away with your dignity intact. That is something you will never regret.

What have you learned about customer service along the way? What advice would you give? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.


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