It’s that time of year again! Love them or dread them, the holidays are upon us and Black Friday seems to be the day that kicks it all off. Here are some factors that may make this year more difficult than some other years for customer service specialists:
- Inflation – Prices are up in many areas, likely increasing stress for customers
- Supply Chain Challenges – Shortages continue to face businesses and customers
- People Patterns – Shoppers who spent the last couple of years in isolation may be out this year, increasing traffic and stress levels
- Safety Concerns – Despite being out more, people may feel more stressed if there are more people around than expected, or if they encounter someone who appears ill
Customers shopping on major shopping days, like Black Friday, may have a lot of needs and expectations. They likely want to save money while still finding special gifts; they may want to get ahead of the game to avoid surprises if stocks are low; and they want to stay safe. They may also want to use the day to reconnect with family and loved ones for a shared shopping experience.
These many needs can create unique challenges for many customer service professionals – you may face customer impatience if the store is understaffed, and irritation about high prices or missing items due to supply chain shortages. You may feel some anxiety yourself about health concerns – no one wants to get sick as a result of helping someone else.
8 Customer Service Tips for Dealing With Black Friday Shoppers
Customer service is more than a handshake and a smile – you are the front door for your organization, and you represent its values and core principles. Staying aligned with those values – while also taking care of yourself – is a key challenge. Here are 8 tips for dealing with shoppers on Black Friday (or any other busy day!):
- Listen for the underlying needs and values. The expressed question may not be the actual underlying need – ask questions to understand the drivers involved (like price, uniqueness, availability).
- Try to stay empathetic. Emotionally connecting with the customer takes a lot of energy, but showing you care and want to connect can diffuse a lot of negative feelings if something is or goes wrong.
- Wait till the customer finishes talking. When things are busy, it is easy to jump in and interrupt when you think you know what the customer is going to say. Just listen – the person may answer their own question or help you help them by providing more information or options.
- Keep an open mind and don’t assume a specific reaction will occur. Gathering some information helps you avoid jumping to conclusions that may not be valid.
- Stay focused on the other person. Follow their lead, rather than setting a direction too quickly.
- When you make suggestions, look for or ask for feedback, so you can refine it if needed.
- Stay flexible and provide options. You may know of an alternative that the customer has not considered – gently note unexpressed needs and offer new options for moving ahead.
- Know what types of customers you are likely to connect with easily, and which type is likely to push your buttons. Knowing these can help you build support and avoid getting derailed.
Communication skills are core to customer service – the emotional interactions you have with the customer can make a huge difference in your success, and your own sense of well-being. Emotional Intelligence is a critical skill that supports this work. Consider Pryor’s EQ Toolbox: Becoming Socially Aware and the webinar Emotional Intelligence: The Keys to Working More Effectively with Others to keep these skill sharp.
5 Ways to Handle Difficult Customers
If the holidays are such a joyful time, why are there so many difficult customers!? This year, your customers may correctly observe that there are staff shortages, higher prices and some empty shelves. It may be hard for them not to take their irritation out on customer service specialists. Here are tips for managing these difficult encounters.
- It is important to recognize the lines between what is acceptable irritation and what is unacceptable rudeness. As a customer service representative in stressful times, you may need to absorb some negative emotion as part of the job – resilience is a key competency for customer-facing roles! At the same time, sometimes customers cross a line – you need to know what is allowed by your organization when this happens.
- Prepare for the day by identifying some alternatives and back-up options. If you know of shortages in key products, know what to suggest instead – an online order? A substitute? Have easy access to online ordering or backorder procedures and likely timelines.
- Practice phrases that you can use to respond to an angry customer and test them with colleagues. Recognize that a kind-hearted “I am sorry” may help soften a situation and get the customer to a place where they can consider other options. Having a list of options of what to say can give you resources when tensions are high.
- Understand what the escalation process is if things get out of hand. If customers start to rant, are pulling your attention away too much from helping others, or have crossed a line of disrespect, know how to pull in another colleague or manager to help.
- Gently observe when a customer’s anger is hindering your ability to help. Acknowledge their frustration, and end with “I am sorry we have this problem.” Consider posting ground rules, so customers understand that there are limits to the behavior you will accept from them. Something like “our customer service reps are here to serve you – please be polite” may remind customers that they are working with other human beings.
Staff shortages are frustrating for everyone and increase the need for a robust management and back-up structure. Know what your options are when things get tough.
Pryor has several offerings related to Customer Service. In particular, Effective Techniques for Dealing with Difficult Customers offers a wide range of tips for helping manage these difficult encounters. Also check out Watch Pryor’s online video on Managing Stress for some useful tips!
Taking Care of Yourself
Before you start a long day of customer interactions, here are some tips for preparing to self-manage throughout the day.
- Think of a time when you helped a customer achieve a goal, or when you made a customer happy and created value for them, even by making their day just a little easier. This can help give you confidence that you can do it again.
- Remember a time when you felt like you effectively read a customer’s emotions or feelings, and changed your behavior to respond, in a way that worked. Think of ways to get yourself to that place of service, empathy, and emotional flexibility.
- Identify a buddy at work during your shift who you can connect with during the day – even if just to exchange sympathetic smiles or a funny story. It is good to feel like there is company when facing unkind strangers.
- Take a break when the schedule allows for it – find a quiet place in advance, where you can take a deep breath, eat and drink something healthy, and just refocus. If you are not tired from being on your feet, try to take a walk outside (if possible) to clear your head, reframe, and refocus.
- Think about what you will do once the day’s work is done. Who you will talk to, how you will relax, or simply think about your head sinking into a pillow with some darkness and quiet. Some days, just remembering that “this too shall pass” can help you get through the day.
Effective customer service requires understanding and responding to a customer’s motives and needs. When a need is met, the customer feels positive emotion. When this happens most effectively, the customer service representative also feels positive emotions – self-care is important for establishing the conditions where this mutual support can occur. Happy Holidays!