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Stop being so nice!

Customer service tips when people are stressed

May 14, 2013
By Jeff Mowatt


May 14, 2013 – Let’s admit it – when it comes to dealing with customers who are stressed, some jobs are easier than others. A masseuse working in a resort spa will have more pleasant customers than a lost luggage agent at a busy airport. If your customers are sitting in a chair at your hair salon, they’re likely to be more relaxed than if they were sitting in an examination chair in a dental office.

That’s why so many customer service training programs fall short of
desired results. Over the last decade, frontline training programs have
focused on enhancing customer experience. The premise is that we are now
in the experience economy. Supposedly, our goal as service providers is
to be friendly and upbeat. That way, we’ll apparently make it more than
just selling a cup of coffee; now it’s an experience. Unfortunately,
for many organizations this strategy backfires.
What if your
customers are doing business with you more out of necessity than desire?
What if your customers are tired, rushed, or angry? When that’s the
case, employee perkiness is likely to be perceived as annoying. That’s
why, when I speak at conferences and do training programs for teams, I
encourage employees to go beyond friendliness to create trust.
Especially with customers who are tired, rushed or upset.
Little Miss Personality
this… a receptionist at a walk-in medical clinic greets new arrivals
with a friendly, upbeat, “Hi, how are you today?” Obviously, people
enter a clinic because something is wrong. That question forces the
incoming patient to reply in one of three ways: Option A) The patient
essentially lies, and responds with, “Fine.” In which case the customer
gets the impression that the receptionist must be blissfully ignorant of
why people visit a clinic. Option B) The patient responds tersely, “Not
good!” Here, the receptionist begins to think she should look for a job
where there aren’t so many cranky people. Finally, Option C) The new
arrival explains at length their medical history and everything they’ve
tried to alleviate their suffering. That means the patient has to repeat
their story to the next health care provider – and the next. Not much
fun for the patient who was simply answering a direct question.
"Employee perkiness is sometimes perceived as annoying."
strategy – the receptionist’s face shows genuine concern and compassion
as the patient approaches. She makes direct eye contact and gently
says, “Good afternoon.” Then she raises her eyebrows waiting for the
patient to volunteer what brought them in. Result? Less time, the
receptionist feels better about her job and the customer gets the
impression the receptionist is tuned-in to patient needs. Quite an
improvement when the employee focuses more on building trust than being
What's up, Dude?
Imagine this time a young software
specialist at a phone-in help-desk receives calls from customers with
computer problems. Attempting to be friendly and disarming, he addresses
male customers at various points of the conversation as ‘buddy, ‘bro’,
or ‘dude’. The problem with these overly familiar terms is the customer
who phones-in with a computer problem likely isn’t happy about the
software or the company that services it. He’s frustrated. He does not
want to be buds with the people who have anything to with the darn
computer. He feels like the systems rep is too casual and wonders if
they are actually trained. The frustrated customer is now becoming
Better Approach – the help desk employee considers his role
as being a Trusted Advisor. He isn’t the customer’s pal. Nor is he a
mere minion in a huge faceless bureaucracy. Nor is he the customer’s
door mat. This time the computer specialist introduces himself at the
beginning if the call with his first and last name. This implies that he
considers himself to be a grown-up professional, and he’s fine with
being held accountable. He doesn’t use overly familiar terms (buddy
etc), nor does he use terms that are too formal; like sir or m’ame. He
simply uses customers’ names when addressing them. With this approach,
the customer feels like he’s getting personalized service from an
accountable professional. The customer gets respect and gives it in
return. He feels better about the company as a whole. And in turn the
help desk rep deals with more civil customers who genuinely appreciate
his expertise. Everyone wins.
The Bottom Line
Exceptional customer
service is not always about being friendly. It is always about creating
trust. The good news is by adjusting a few words and phrases, you can
generate significant improvements in customer loyalty. It isn’t
complicated. That’s why I call this approach, Influence with Ease.

Customer service strategist and professional speaker, Jeff Mowatt is an authority on The Art of Client Service .  .  .  Influence with Ease. For Jeff's other tips, self-study resources, and training services on resolving conflict, visit .