The Pre-emptive Acknowledgement

25.06.2018 |

Episode #9 of the course How to serve upset customers by Jeff Toister


I’m sure you’d agree it’s better to help customers avoid getting angry than to serve someone whose anger has already boiled over!

Yesterday, we learned how to help customers avoid unpleasant surprises. Today, let’s focus on another technique that will encourage more customers to keep their cool. It’s called the pre-emptive acknowledgement.


The Pre-emptive Acknowledgement Technique

The technique works by acknowledging a service failure before a customer gets angry. It’s a quirk of psychology that makes it hard to get too angry if someone acknowledges our feelings ahead of time.

Let me give you an example.

Imagine you go out to eat with friends on a busy Friday night. You are enjoying a nice conversation until you all start to notice that it seems to be taking awhile for your food to arrive. Your drinks are also getting low and need to be refilled. What happens now is the key to a good or bad experience.

You might be upset if your server can’t be found and the table that was seated ten minutes after you gets their order in the meantime.

Here’s where the pre-emptive acknowledgement can save the day.

Your server arrives at your table just as you are noticing the long wait and apologizes for the delay. She assures you she’s checked on your order. and it’s the next one out of the kitchen. She then offers to refill your drinks in the meantime. That short delay in getting your food is probably a non-event because the server acknowledged the situation before you got angry.

The pre-emptive acknowledgement is a way of demonstrating to customers that you are paying attention and you care about them.


Keys to Using This Technique

There are three keys to using the pre-emptive acknowledgement technique:

1. You must identify situations where a customer is likely to get upset, before their emotions boil over.

2. You must acknowledge the situation and the customer’s emotions. For example, you might say, “I apologize for the delay, thank you for your patience!” or something else that’s appropriate.

3. Finally, you must take some action. In the restaurant example, the server refilled everyone’s drinks and checked on the table’s order to make sure it was truly the next one out of the kitchen.

There are many types of situations where it can be really helpful. Here are just a few examples:

• a cashier serving a long line of customers

• a repair technician who finds an unexpected extra repair is required

• a salesperson who must announce a price increase to a customer

• an airline gate agent announcing a flight delay

• a receptionist asking a new customer to fill out a stack of paperwork

Customers are likely to get upset in all these situations. You can help customers feel a bit better if you pre-empt any negative feelings and then re-focus on moving forward.

Over the next day, see if you can spot an opportunity to use this technique. Notice how customers react compared to other times when you have not pre-empted their anger.

Can you believe tomorrow is already Lesson 10? We’ll focus on ways we can learn something from every angry customer we serve.


Recommended book

Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers by Jay Baer


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