Dealing with Irrational Customers and Escalating Complaints
Maintaining a Professional Approach -
Course Introduction and the Business Is Your Customer
Hi, my name is Theresa Miller, and I am the founder and CEO of 24x7 IT Connection. Today we're going to take a journey on what it means to deal with irrational customers and escalating their complaints. More importantly, this specific module will cover how to maintain a professional approach. So here's an overview of what to expect. First, it's important to consider how the business is actually your customer, even if you are not selling something. In IT, the business is your customer; think about that. Of course we'll talk about that more shortly, but keep that in mind. And then, we're going to talk about how keeping it professional and staying calm goes a long way for supporting your organization, but also for your reputation within the organization. So as I mentioned, the business is your customer, treat them with the utmost respect. So then really, what does this mean? Who are your customers? Well, every single person in the organization you work for, they likely use technology, so there's a strong probability that every single person in the company is your customer. Maybe it's a subset of the organization, but nonetheless, if you are deploying tech, the audience that uses it is who you support, they're your customers. So just to reiterate, anyone in your organization that requires support about any technology they use to do their job is your customer. Now let's discover the definition of a customer. According to Investopedia, a customer is the end consumer of a product. So if the consumer is consuming a technology you deployed or if you are in a support role, front line support, you're going to be supporting every product in the company. So now let's take a look at the business customer. I want to take a look at some examples in terms of how to treat people respectfully and get their issues resolved. So we have Elaine Wisper, and she's in Accounting, and she's having issues with her mobile device synchronizing to her calendar. So she calls in for support to IT to resolve her computer issue. Well it just so happens that Kelly Wilderson, he's Level 2 support, Elaine ends up calling in to him for assistance with this calendar sync issue, and so Kelly understands that he must resolve her issue respectfully or escalate to someone who can in a timely manner. But here's what's most important, how do we be a professional regardless of the demeanor of Elaine? Let's talk about some examples of how we could talk to her. I love this one. I love when people answer the phone and say, who do I have the pleasure of speaking with today? Because even if I, in that case, am the angry customer, it actually makes me step back and think, wow, you know they actually might be happy to hear from me, and it almost instantly changes my mood even if I'm not feeling happy with the situation I'm facing. Now, also, after the phone has been answered and we've greeted Elaine with courtesy, he may ask that she provide some additional detail and a description of her issue. If Kelly maintains being respectful the entire time, and even more importantly, resolves her issue, she will be a happy customer, and Kelly will look great. In fact, Kelly will be considered a strong employee that might even be up for a promotion when the opportunity arises.
Keeping It Professional, Staying Calm, and Summary -
So we just finished an example of how to be professional, courteous, and resolve an issue. Now let's take a look at how to keep it professional and stay calm, because not every situation is the same, they're all a little different, so let's cover what that actually might mean. So when you start assisting a customer, keep in mind you only have control over your own actions, not theirs, yours, and it is in your best interest to stay calm. It is also in your best interest to treat them all with respect and professionalism. This will carry you a long way regardless of where you work. Now, as I mentioned, this might be something that can feel challenging from time to time, because there are many different types of customers, some that are just really hard to deal with, and it can be so frustrating you may want to lash back. Number one, you shouldn't, but let's dive into these customer types. So the impatient customer might call in last minute. They're unhappy and they need something fixed immediately, has to be done immediately, which makes it really pressuring and hard for you who answered the phone to do a thorough job. You may get the angry customer. The angry customer won't care how respectfully you picked up that phone and how kind you were, they're probably going to start screaming at you no matter what. It will not be in your best interest to scream back. You may get the intimidating customer as well. The kind that threatens and says, I will go to the CEO if this isn't fixed now. And then there's the demanding personality. Another one of those situations where you're getting a person that says, I expect this will be resolved immediately or else. These are the type of customers that can make our job a challenge, but it's important to recognize that these types of people exist and that these situations will come up. So let's talk about how that can look. So, when you're dealing with any customer regardless of their demeanor, if they're angry, impatient, happy, even demanding, just looking for assistance, all of those different types of personalities and situations, the outcome of the issue will start with your response, so it's important, again, to stay calm and kindly ask, how can I help you today? So before you offer any solutions, even if they're screaming at you, you need to step back and just listen, listen to what they have to say, listen to what they've been through. You might be the third or fourth person they've talked to, you might be the first, but listen to what they have to say. Also, get input from the person calling on the outcomes and time to resolution that they are expecting. This will help guide you on the solutions you offer. For example, do you escalate immediately to Level 2 if you are Level 1? Do you engage a leader right away? Do you have some time? Do you have 5 or 10 minutes to work with them to see if you can't resolve their issue immediately? Again, that all starts with listening and getting their input and their expectations. So what should you do? First of all, get control of yourself. If you are feeling in any way, shape or form that you might get angry, step back and remember you should not argue with the customers when they are angry and complaining. If you get angry back, you've lost control of the entire situation, and that never leads to good outcomes. Listen to the customer, tune in to the customer, don't look for the nearest exit. As much as you might want to leave this situation, you need to make sure that you listen to them, acknowledge them, and understand, empathize. If this customer is face to face with you, maintain eye contact and show them attentiveness. Let them talk and pay close attention. Show the customer you care. Ask questions, for example. You might say, there are a few questions that I need to ask you before I can determine the next steps in this situation, or you could say, I need some additional information before I can assist. Also, never acknowledge blame. This could lead to more severe consequences; just show them you care. And then finally, try solving the problem. If you can't find the resolution for them, find someone who can. There are actually two other Pluralsight courses where we discuss customer service. You may want to check them out. One of them is called, Understanding Customer Service Processes and Procedures, and the other one is Support Center Tools, Technology, and Metrix. Both of these courses can help your team more efficiently learn how to leverage the tools they have to more quickly resolve problems. Also, later in this course, we'll cover when to escalate. If you can't solve the problem, knowing when to escalate will also provide valuable insights into how to handle the strategy correctly. So what should you do? Number one, never blame the customer or the company. You are going to work with them until a resolution has been provided. Do not make promises you cannot keep. Get assistance from someone else if you're stuck. If you are losing your cool, transfer to someone else that's calmer, and if you are not meeting the needs of the customer, escalate to someone with more authority. I would like to point out, I am seeing more and more that first-level support has more authority to make tough decisions than ever before. I personally always appreciate when a support call starts with my name is Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So, who do I have the pleasure of speaking with today? It sets the tone for the call in a positive way even if the person on the phone isn't happy. Also, extremely important, do not take anything personally that the person on the phone is saying. It's not you, they're frustrated with their situation. There will always be difficult customers, and your job is to help the customer with the right attitude. It is your job to help the best you can keeping things positive. This can be so hard to keep a positive attitude in a tough situation, but it is important not to get defensive. I'm going to reiterate, they are not attacking you personally, they are just frustrated with the situation. Try to put yourself in their shoes for a moment. This will help ensure that you show quality service, and it will make sure that the customer feels your empathy and that you are on their side. I was recently in a situation where I had a valve leaking on my car. Now I know this isn't IT, this valve was actually in a tire, and I stopped in, I was under a lot of pressure myself, I needed to get to a city that was about an hour away from where this was happening in about an hour, and I stopped in a tire shop, and I will say I was frustrated, but I was respectful, and I asked when they would be able to get me in. They said about an hour and I said, is there anything more you could do? I need to be here, actually with one of my kids, at this time, or they're going to be late. And they said, no. I said, okay, and I went and sat down, and yes, I was frustrated. The person behind the counter decided that I was attacking them. Well, number one, I didn't even say another word, I just said, okay, I went and sat down, but obviously my body language was showing something of frustration. They actually verbally attacked me, and I was not going to put up with that, so we left despite the leak and a couple of blocks down I found somewhere, even though I was frustrated, they took the time to keep a positive attitude with me, they took care of me, and it was such a wonderful experience. I left there feeling great. We were still late for our activity, but my point here is the positive attitude of the person helping me went a long way in that overall situation. They put themselves in my shoes and they treated me with respect. Other suggestions I can make, when you are the person supporting a frustrated user, it's important to take the time to say, I'm sorry about that, let's see what we can do, or once you've offered them a solution say, is that okay? Will this solution work for you? Even if it's a temporary solution that buys you some time to be able to research and get a more formal and final solution. Staying calm is so important. When you are helping people you will often run into a troublesome support situation, and so let's talk about this a little bit. I want to talk about a troublesome support situation. I once took a call for a user who was so demanding, you almost did not want to work with this person, but I took the time to empathize. This person had a really, really tainted feel for support in general at that company, and I took the time to listen, and the outcome was amazing. We fixed the issue, and they went on their way. It just really worked out great. Also, to support that, I stayed calm, I didn't yell, I didn't do anything to antagonize the situation. We talked about expectations, and I confirmed that the needs of the caller were met. So in summary, today with this module we talked about the fact that those who consume IT in your business are your customers, and that could mean everyone in the organization or it could be in a subset, and the value of remaining professional and calm regardless of the shoes you're in. Coming next, we will talk in more depth about this topic. We're going to dive into dealing with irrational customers.
Dealing with Irrational Customers -
Module Introduction and Reputation to the Business
Hi everyone. Today we have a really interesting topic to cover. I feel like it can be a challenging topic, at least when we have to deal with irrational customers. And so knowing how to handle these tough situations in a support role will go a long way for your success and your career in IT. My name is Theresa Miller, and I am the founder and CEO of 24x7 IT Connection. So here's an overview of what we'll cover. First it will be all about your reputation to the business. When you work in a support center, you are the reputation of the business. But even more importantly, you have your own reputation to uphold, so we're going to talk about that today, as well as when you're in these tough situations, what you should be doing and what you shouldn't be doing. So, first things first, your reputation to the business. When you look at the support center concept series that we've done here at Pluralsight, we've talked about reputation before. Well, now let's dive deeper into different considerations that can impact you as you are looking to prove yourself to the organization you work for. Before we can do that, let's make sure that we all have a level set on the definition of a reputation. It is a publicly recognized name or standing for merit, achievement, reliability, etc. So it's how you look to other people, what merits and achievements do you deserve? So again, on the topic of reputation, any technical position that handles support for a business has a reputation to consider. When you have a great reputation for handling customers well, this can lead to promotion, isn't that exciting, but it's also a representation of the overall quality of IT. It starts with you when you answer that call. So when you're dealing with these tough situations, always do your best. So keep in mind, handling these situations it's so important to stay calm and support the company you work for. Whether things are right or wrong from a technical perspective, you need to work through every situation with every user. So here's some advice. First of all, be polite. No matter how stressed out everyone is, just be courteous and polite. If you have someone really angry on the phone, stop and listen. Listen to what they have to say. Don't stop them. Don't say, oh, I know, I know, I know, I know, and disregard their voice. Listen to what they have to say, then acknowledge and share what you know. And then, also make sure you resolve their issue, or if you cannot resolve their issue, then get someone who can, escalate, find a coworker, whatever it takes work towards resolution.
What to Do, What Not to Do, and Summary -
So now let's cover what you should do and what you shouldn't do. This can be tricky. So here we have a really angry customer. So what should you do with that really angry customer? Well here's a scenario. Let's say you work for a healthcare organization and a physician, who's the primary moneymaker for the organization, calls in because they can't send a message and they have to get back to their patient care as soon as possible, and not only that, this is an urgent email, it has to go out now, but your organization has mailbox size limitations, and so in this case the mailbox is full. So, you have a physician that's angry, they call you, they vent on you, here's what you need to do. First of all, take in what they're saying or yelling at you, take it in. When it comes to mailbox sizes, every organization's going to treat this a little bit differently, but here's what I would recommend, if you cannot either increase or remove their mailbox limit, temporarily anyways, then you need to get the person who can on the phone as soon as possible, and when you do that, you can actually resolve this issue really fast and in the end, that particular physician will be gracious, and thankful, and be able to go on with their day back to billing and taking care of patients and saving lives. Scenario two: What shouldn't you do with an angry customer? So, Jim, he's a CEO, he calls in for assistance to fix his email mailbox size limit. So again, we're an organization where there's limits, and you choose not to listen, you choose not to care that they're angry, and you forward the ticket on without any handholding to the next person. You didn't get them on the phone, you just took the ticket and passed it along. Now, in that case, it could be another hour before this mailbox increase occurs; the size limit is stuck at the smaller limit, and what you're going to have is a very angry CEO, you're going to have very poor outcomes, and your reputation is now on the line. You didn't take care of the customer like they were number one. Scenario three: What to do with a demanding customer. In this situation, we work for our local utility company. A customer calls in for assistance setting up the wireless configuration on their corporate laptop. For some reason this hadn't been done prior to the laptop being issued. Now we have a user that's really, really in a bind. They need to do a presentation in a conference room with the wireless on their device in 10 minutes. This person is not happy at all, and they're being very demanding and want it resolved now. So you're listening, you're doing all the right things. You've listened to what the situation is, and then you reach out directly to the support staff that can set up this wireless as soon as possible. Now there is a chance that wireless is going to take more than 10 minutes to set up if there's software that needs to be installed, but with the right support staff, they should be able to provide a loaner laptop with this already set up, and then the presentation can go on. So again, this is a perfect scenario, in 10 minutes everything was taken care of, you listened, you took care of them, and the positive outcome that came from it got you promoted. Scenario four here is what not to do with a demanding customer. So Sam, another one of the users in your environment, needs their wireless working on their laptop now, and the way you start handling it is, say, you start telling them, well they should have planned ahead, and they should have checked it ahead of time, and there's nothing you can do now. Sam is going to be furious. Sam is not going to be able to do his presentation on time and you, and your reputation are at stake. You've now contributed to a poor outcome and may become disinterested in working with IT. They might try to work around IT going forward instead of with IT, so never, ever, ever be abrupt or confrontational when a customer in your organization needs assistance within IT. So let's review, what should you be doing? Key points: One, you should be empathetic. Make sure the customer knows that you care and that you truly want to help them, regardless of the demeanor of the person calling in, because we don't know what they've been through. Make sure you listen and hear them out before you start sharing your thoughts and opinions, and be sure to work with the customer to get a resolution that suits their needs, and if that means you need to get on another phone call to get the right person to help them, then that's what you do. Now let's review some of what you should not do. What's going to ruin your reputation? Don't fight back. Again, you don't know what they've been through. Just listen, take in what they're saying, and things will go well. Do not ever tell them they aren't being reasonable. The customer is always right, and you will find a way to get them what they need. Do not ever pass them off to another coworker right away. Let me expand on this more. A clean handoff is so important if you're going to involve another coworker, don't just dump it. And do not argue, never, ever, ever argue with the customer. I actually watched a show recently; it was one of those shows where the manager observes their employees but they don't know that that's their manager observing, they kind of go undercover. And in this situation a customer had called in for help with something, and the person that called, who was supporting the phones, actually argued with the customer instead of being helpful. The company offered that employee some training, and they still didn't lose that argumentative tone. They, in the end, lost their job, so never, ever, ever argue. So as a reminder, listen to the customer, put yourself in their shoes, and be professional. This is important to being successful when dealing with irrational customers. So in summary, your reputation is at stake here. If you leave a company, are you going to want people to give you references? Then make sure you make good choices that keep your reputation in good standing. We also covered what you should do when you're on a support call. All the right steps and thought processes will help go a long way for the success of you and that company and the organization. When I think about support roles, you hear about these stories of people who started out on the support desk, did such an amazing job, and over the years ended up running that department, became the CIO or even the CEO of the organization, so make sure you keep in mind what to do, but don't lose sight of what not to do. Don't become that argumentative employee that fights with the person you're trying to help. It's not going to get you anywhere at all. Coming up next, we're going to talk about complaint escalation techniques, so when you're in these sticky situations you have the right process in place to get the job done as efficiently as possible and leaving that customer as happy as they can be.
Complaint Escalation Techniques -
Module Introduction and Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
Now we're going to dive into how to handle complaints and escalation, tying that together formulating complaint escalation techniques. My name is Theresa Miller, and I am the founder and CEO of 24x7 IT Connection. Here's an overview of what we'll cover today. First we'll talk about service level agreements, then we'll cover escalation procedures, and finally, we'll dive into how to know when to escalate, and this one can be tricky, so you won't want to miss out on what I have to say. So let's start with those service level agreements. SLAs are about operational excellence where there's continual process improvement tied to metrics. So what are the advantages to implementing SLAs? One, we ensure the availability of critical systems; two, the quality, making sure that there's five nines, for example, of uptime leads to quality implementations of your technology. SLAs in a support role can also ensure call handling times are always improving, because you have the ability to go back and listen and figure out what could have been done differently and improved. Also, obtaining a service level adaptability. When you know where you stand with different metrics in your support team, it makes you more adaptable to making the changes necessary for success. They also help with external factors, things that you can't control, knowing where you stand, where the baseline is, and then when things happen outside of your control, service level agreements can really, really, really help with that. And then finally, it does help with employee expectation and productivity. If you have goals for each individual employee and the team, then they know how to focus their time and energy. And just one more final parting thought on this, SLAs are important to ensuring that IT is meeting the needs of the organization, and if you are a publicly traded company, SLAs can be leveraged for commitment to confidence in the organization, more importantly, the shareholders of the company. This often leads to more interests in purchase of stock for that company. So here are some examples of service level agreements. If something is deemed a severity level 1 and the impact is critical business impact, business can't function, then your response goal might be, let's get this fixed within 2 hours. If the issue is a severity 2 where there's significant business impact but not everything is down, then maybe within 4 business hours is appropriate. And if your issue is a severity 3 where there's some business impact, then maybe by the end of the next business day is completely acceptable. And finally, severity 4, minimum business impact, maybe by the end of the next business day is acceptable. Now I look at these and I actually think that for some companies these agreements would not be acceptable; they may need to be more aggressive, and that's okay. You need to fill in the blanks with what's best for your company and what's most realistic. But this is a guideline, a baseline on where you could start that conversation, to make sure the right SLA response times are documented and adhered to.
Escalation Procedures -
Escalation procedures: This is where things get a little bit trickier, but we're going to talk about the value of them, as well. Why should I have a procedure to handle escalation? Well first, let's define escalation procedures. They are a part of an emergency plan which sets down the conditions or events under which the plan is activated. So, again, if I work for a healthcare organization, and I have this amazing electronic health record application and it goes down, what's the backup plan? Do I have a disaster recovery site, do I have emergency PCs that will come online on backup power to keep the business functioning? What is that plan and how long should it take to get it in place? I would think in a hospital, actually I know in a hospital, that if you have critical patients and the power goes out or that electronic health record application goes away, no downtime is acceptable. You need to get them online and supported as soon as possible. So that's why these types of conversations are so important. So that being said, healthcare or not, a well-developed IT department will have an understanding of the level of communication that your business needs. It's from those expectations that a plan can be made. So, how a retail store responds to a power outage might be different than how a healthcare organization responds to an outage. And so you can see, it can vary, broad spectrum, but it all comes down to this. So let's talk in greater depth now. Why do we need an escalation process? I shared some examples with you, but here's some more conceptual thought. Sometimes we do not have visibility into actions or ownership. We need to create escalation process to ensure that there is formal business functionality protection. A critical system failure cannot endure an outage for days, it's not acceptable, so making sure the right people are there to fix the issue immediately comes from this type of process. This also can effect and monitor the effectiveness of a team. How did that team come together during their crisis moment? Did it work well or did it fall apart? What do we need to fix next time as it relates to team effectiveness? And it provides a clear understanding and closure and the ability to engage in process improvement. Issue escalation across all functions and work streams must be addressed in a consistent and standardized manner to be successful.
How to Know When to Escalate and Summary -
So how to know when to escalate, this is tough. We don't want to be guessing, and we need a well-defined process to help us out with that. Determining when to escalate can be so tricky. There are some really simple implementation steps that can help, so let's talk about some of those. One of the most important things to think about is that it's important to be proactive. When there is an outage you do not want to be reactive; you want to know that something's going to be happening. That improves the comeback online time. So let's talk about how to develop a plan. When do I level up? I am the frontline support person. As the person who answers the phone, I should have clearly defined processes in place that guide me as to when to escalate a call. For example, when do I move from my support level, Level 1, to Level 2? Or when do I open a support case with a third party product vendor? When do I get them involved? Proactive escalations will make things go more smoothly and ensure the business is well taken care of. Also tied to developing a plan, what about leadership escalations? You should plan for when to create leadership awareness. Okay, so let's talk about leveling up. Here's an example that's very real world. So we have a user that's waiting, and here's why they're waiting: They called in and they needed help with their Outlook signature, it won't stay on, every time they close Outlook it goes away. So the user is waiting very patiently but needs to get back to work. At this point the knowledgebase has been exhausted and your knowledge is exhausted, so in this company we strongly recommended that after 15-20 minutes if something like this isn't resolved, then you should be escalating or bringing in another team member for review. So team member review is extremely valuable in case somebody has some other ideas that you can exhaust before actually leveling up, in this case, to the Exchange Team. Now, that being said, if there's a system down, an entire email system outage, this approach would be completely modified. So in that case, you would escalate immediately to the team that deals with Microsoft Exchange. Now, if we have an Exchange outage, we also will likely get leadership involved, so the leadership escalation process looks something like this. We probably have a well-defined knowledge base, and we should. We've determined that there's a system-wide outage of Exchange, and the process that our organization has determined that's acceptable is if it cannot be resolved in 15 minutes, you need to contact your manager. At that point in time, the manager will notify the director, but after 30 minutes of outage then a business-wide notification will be sent out. It's really important to have these processes documented because when you're troubleshooting a complex issue, it's easy to lose sight of these steps and having these processes down and in front of you and having a team member work with you on them can go a long way for the proper communication that's needed. Now there may be the time, we're going to kind of shift gears a little bit, there may be the irrational customer in this scenario, as well, and you need to know when to escalate. So one, if you have someone irrational on the phone, make sure you empathize with them and offer any assistance that's within your realm. Now if there's any resistance to what you're offering, then I would suggest that you offer a conversation with your leader. It shows that you're listening and you're willing to assist in any possible way, which creates a positive experience. So again, through that discussion with your leader, the customer feels served. So in summary, we talked about the value of service level agreements, we covered escalation procedures and how important they are to have solid ones in place, and we shared some real world escalation success stories validating why these procedures are so invaluable. I hope you've enjoyed this course. I've enjoyed teaching it and talking with you about all of these different topics. Thank you and have a wonderful day.