Handling issues with customers is never easy. First of all, you have to determine the scale of issues that require escalation, asking yourself ‘does this affect the customer, for how long, and do they need to know about it?’ In most cases, the answer is yes, even if it’s a small issue, communicating to customers early on that there is a problem, that you’re looking into it, and that they will get an explanation, are three very important steps that go a long way to building long term customer relations.
1. Have someone in your Customer's corner
For Customers that are well known by your team for being difficult, it can be easy to make excuses not to call or email them, or remove them from important notifications that provide updates for your product, for fear of upsetting them. For these scenarios, it’s best to have someone in the customer’s corner, and that’s where a good Customer Success Manager comes in. Customer Success Managers should advocate internally for their clients, and they should have someone they can escalate to should the client be upset about something.
2. Be proactive when communicating
As I mentioned before, communicating early is key. Should something go wrong, it’s always best to get ahead of it with the customer. If you’re the one informing them of a problem before they find it first, they are more likely to respond rationally and be happier in the long run, because they’ll trust that you will reliably inform them of issues. Should they find the issue first, and are informing you of it, make sure your response is appropriate. If via phone, tell them you will look into it immediately, and give them a timeline for you to call them back or email them. If via email, again reply back right away telling them you’re investigating, and then when you have an update, call them, don’t email. That extra step takes it to the next level and allows them to vent any frustrations direct to you without having to email you back. Bear in mind as well that if you’re nervous about calling a client in a hairy situation, people are typically more reasonable on the phone than by email, so it’s unlikely they’ll get as upset as they would come across when they’re venting their frustrations out through their keyboard.
3. Take action
Once you’ve responded to let them know you’re investigating, do just that. Submit a ticket, tap shoulders, send IMs fast and furiously. If you don’t have a process for this, make one, now. For every issue, there needs to be an escalation route. For us, we submit tickets to our Support team who then escalate to our Infrastructure/development teams if the issue is more back-end. If it’s an issue that requires reaching out to a vendor, do so immediately, and find out from them ahead of time what their escalation channels look like.
Once escalated, get back in touch with the customer and find out what their availability is for a follow-up call. This is tricky, if you have experienced the issue before you will know how much time to give your internal team to pull details and an explanation. If you haven’t, use your best guess to figure out how much time to give your internal team, or ask them first how soon they think they’ll have details. Schedule a call with your customer and make sure you have everyone on the call from their end and your own. If the issue goes above your head, don’t try to explain it yourself, leverage the knowledge of your colleagues. This is not the time to be a hero. I would also recommend having your manager or director on the call. It always makes a customer feel good to know that someone higher up, no matter how much or little value that person brings to the meeting, is available to them, and their presence can help them feel important.
5. Communicate internally
Finally, make sure everyone in the company who interacts with the customer is aware of the issue, or that the customer is being temperamental. Alerting others internally and providing insights around what upsets your clients, what issues they’ve had, will go a long way in preventing further damage down the road. This is imperative especially if you have Customer Success and Sales teams that operate separately to each other. The worst thing you could do is not keep your sales team informed of issues with an unhappy client and have the sales person reach out, only to have the client inform them of issues, ultimately damaging your relationship further and preventing the opportunity of any upsells to that customer.
With all this in place as an overall process, you should have the steps in place to be able to escalate issues appropriately, keep your customers informed and build healthier relationships with them.
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