Tips for the President: Customer Service for an Angry Nation

President Obama has lots of angry customers, and the State of the Union address on Wednesday will probably exacerbate the problem.

To that end, here are some suggestions on how to approach the speech to an angry nation.

Some time-honored steps to follow when dealing with angry customers:

1. Listen – Each time a customer has to repeat or explain a problem the anger grows, so listen carefully and take notes.

2. Repeat the problem back – This helps to make sure you understand the problem and the customer will know they’ve been heard and understood.

3. Empathize – Saying something as simple as, “I’d be calling about this problem, too,” makes it clear you see them as a person and you care.

4. Explain the steps to resolve the problem – A long, drawn-out process is made easier to deal with if you know all the steps and you know someone is working on it.

5. Provide updates – Not all problems can be solved immediately. From the customer’s point of view, not hearing anything is the same as nothing being done at all.

6. Follow through – The most important step of all. Following the previous steps goes a long way to tone a situation down. Not following through will only make the customer angrier.

What not to do:

1. Argue with the customer – Do not tell them they are wrong for feeling angry. Don’t put the customer on the defensive by making them justify their anger.

2. Make foolish promises – If they are already angry, don’t make the situation worse by promising something you can’t deliver. It is better to say “I don’t know, but we’ll work on a solution,” than to promise to fix something you haven’t dealt with before.

3. Blame someone else – Problems don’t get fixed through blame. Letting the customer know you think a coworker is lazy might make you feel better, but the problem will still be there after you are done complaining. Working to solve the problem regardless of the cause will earn their trust.

4. Personalizing the problem – avoid using “I’s and You’s” in your discussion, which can trigger defensiveness and come across as ordering the customer around. “You have to bring your car in before I can repair it” feels much different than, “When the car is brought into the shop, repairs will be started.” By staying factual, you can maintain focus on what’s important: solving the problem.

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