The Partner Technique
Episode #4 of the course How to serve upset customers by Jeff Toister
Can you believe we’re already on Lesson 4?
In our last lesson, we discussed the importance of listening when you are serving an angry customer. Listening allows the customer to vent and can help you de-escalate the situation. At some point, we still need to take action.
This can be delicate. Research shows that angry customers are more judgmental and less open to ideas than someone who is calm or happy. That can be a big hurdle, since we often need customers to go along with our suggestions when we are trying to solve a problem.
Beware of Negative Body Language
It’s interesting to observe conversations between customers and employees in these situations. Frequently, the employee unconsciously mirrors the customer’s hostility.
Here are a few tells:
• standing with arms crossed
• unfriendly facial expression
• facing the customer directly
Some employees unconsciously project a hostile and controlling demeanor, which only makes an anger customer even angrier!
Using the Partner Technique
A better approach is to use the partner technique. It works by consciously adopting actions and words that help the customer believe you genuinely want to help them.
Here are a few partner technique actions:
• Stand next to the customer, as if you are both working together.
• Speak in calm, soothing tones.
• Use collaborative words such as “We” and “Let’s.”
It’s more difficult to be upset at someone who clearly wants to help us!
The partner technique also works when we need to reinforce a rule or a policy that is likely to make a customer angry. For example, I shared this technique with airline gate agents. One of their biggest challenges was passengers who tried to board with carry-on bags that were too large. In the past, this situation often devolved into a confrontation.
Using the partner technique, the gate agent would avoid negative body language or saying things that seemed like a command to the passenger. Gate agents would instead invite the passenger over to a luggage sizer and offer to measure the bag together. If the bag was too large, the agent would make suggestions, such as redistributing some of its contents to a smaller bag or offer to check the too-large bag at no charge.
The gate agents also learned to ask questions to get to the heart of what might be bothering the passenger:
• Were they worried about paying for checked baggage?
• Did their suitcase contain important items?
• Or did they simply want to get on the plane as quickly as possible?
This technique allowed gate agents to work with passengers to help them achieve their goal.
Partnering via Phone or Email
So far, we’ve focused on situations involving face-to-face customer service. There’s an undeniable power behind the way we communicate with our body language.
However, you may be one of the many people who serve customers without ever seeing them. Perhaps you speak with customers on the phone or communicate via email, chat, or social media. You can still use the partner technique in those situations too!
Over the phone, you can use language and a tone of voice that demonstrates you are trying to help your customer get what they want. Via written communication, your words and actions can demonstrate a partnership.
Now it’s your turn to try the partner technique. The good news is, you don’t need to wait for an angry customer to practice. While you serve customers throughout the day, imagine yourself as your customer’s advocate and try to use the partner technique to help customers feel like you are on their side. See if you can notice a change in your customer’s mood as you use this approach.
Tomorrow, we’ll focus on specific words to use and words to avoid when partnering with our customers.
How Unrelated Anger Follows Your Customers to You
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