Customer Service Negotiation to Bridge the Expectation Gap

Customers can have unreasonable expectations when they call the customer service department and negotiating with them at this stage would help to bridge the gap between service and expectations. It would help set appropriate and attainable standards. We are not going with the premise that when the customer calls he is bound to have unreasonable expectations. For him or her, those expectations are probably within the realm of legitimate and logical but just don’t fit with the capacity or spectrum of your company. This is where the balancing and bridging comes in to play since negotiating with a customer can be intimidating and unsettling. Postulating that the customer is always right, this portion can get even tougher. The approach used by the customer service representatives at this stage could be the deciding factor of whether the customer will do business with your company or not. Using Customer Service Negotiation will bridge the expectation gap for a smooth interaction at later stages.

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[img src=”https://corp.yonyx.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Negotiating-to-Bridge-the-Gap2-210×150.jpg” width=”” height=”” align=”right”] To start with your company must have ensured that the customer service representatives are brought up to speed with any new products or services. They must be sufficiently trained to negotiate and bear the pressure of this process as ‘First Point Contacts’. When the customer calls, the representative must not only be able to answer accurately but also be able to anticipate queries and questions. Armed with these skills and knowledge your customer service representative is in a far superior position to handle the barrage of negotiation that will follow and will remain on solid ground even when faced with the most powerful and tough customer. A handy list stating – the product or service USP, the value-add for the customer and why the product or service is so distinctive and remarkable – will serve to negotiate to the optimum. Under no circumstance should the customer service representative short sell – you will probably gain a customer but not his loyalty.

Negotiation should never be on the table just for the sake of it. There must be a valid reason of why the negotiation must happen and the customer service representative must understand what you as a company hope to gain from it and be able to tell the customer how he or she stands to win. A seasoned customer service representative would be able to determine, from the questions and demands of the customer, the reasons compelling the customer to enter into such negotiation. The customer would on his or her part also have a list of goals and rationale for spending time in having a discussion with your company. Having a hold of these reasons, your customer service representative will be better placed to provide apt answers and personalized solutions, putting you in control of any further negotiations and dialogue.

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Before launching a new product or service or even re-launching any of these, it is of prime importance that you as a company are prepared to deal with the ‘tsunami of customer queries’ that will turn in to negotiating dialogues. Focusing on priming and educating your customer service team would be indispensable and crucial. Price for example would probably be one of the points of contention and unless this team is empowered enough, the negotiation would probably break down at this point. If the team is convinced of the value of the product or service, this conviction will show when they are negotiating even with the most discerning customer. You will be able to get more than what you thought possible through ‘negotiating with conviction’ rather than an unsure or shaky business case.
It is rather redundant to say that it is imperative to first listen. Listening and letting the other person place his or her viewpoint is true for any discussion and relationship. In this case, it is a relationship with your customer or prospective one at stake. Before the customer service ‘enthusiast’ begins the oration on why the customer should choose you, he or she must listen attentively and completely to what the customer expects (however, unreasonable) both in terms of price and value the product or service will add. When the customer feels that he is being heard with patience, you would have crossed the first barrier – that of trust. It will be far easier for the customer service representative to engage the customer long enough for him or her to showcase adequately the new launch or re-launch.

Despite being sufficiently stocked up product or service knowledge, it is impossible to know what will trigger a negative reaction in the customer. Before the customer service representative could even know what happened, he or she could be facing an irate and highly vexed customer. In order to keep the focus on the negotiation, the representative must remain calm and in control of his or her words. Retaliation or mirroring of the negative behavior is a sure shot way of a breakdown in communication. In fact, the customer will most certainly use your words and reactions against you and your company. The representative must concentrate on veering the conversation back to what the customer stands to gain if he or she decides to buy. Maintaining this focus deftly downplays the disruptive behavior and keeps some semblance of sense and balance. The ‘force of composure’ will be strong enough to tell the customer that as a company you are keen on getting business in a professional and refined manner and that going forward too, he or she will be treated with respect.

In the negotiation process, it will not suffice to remain calm. As the customer service representatives, you would also need to be thinking of ways to navigate smoothly through the entire negotiation. Instead of trying to immediately provide an answer or resolution, you could ask the customer as to why he or she thinks the point they made is logical and reasonable. This way you have given them a chance to express their negotiating point and now you would be better placed to counter it with what your company has to offer. If you appear rigid, it will probably bring about the end of the conversation. Asking the customer questions and allowing them to explain, helps you see his / her perspective and why the negotiation is so important. It will keep you in a vantage position to clearly see how the product or service your company is offering will be of value to the customer. As the first point contact and negotiator remember that you are in a crucial position and must be able to use more than one strategy to land your company with the business.

At no point must you allow the negotiation include the competition. Even if you are trying to highlight the negative aspects of the competitors offering, you are providing an insight for the customer as to how they could approach the competition. Plus you are taking up valuable negotiating time and resources to discuss competition! That is certainly not a smart move! Steer clear of any discussion that seems to direct the negotiation to your competitor. Focus only on what you as the customer service representative is bringing to the table on behalf of your company and how it will benefit the customer both from a long term and short term perspective.

It is possible that your customer starts the negotiation with what your competition is offering that may well be similar to your company’s product or service. Instead of commenting on the pros and cons of their offering, show the customer the value of your company’s product or service. When you know and exhibit this value, your customer will see it too. The customer should also be able to perspicuously see that you value their business, are unwilling to let your competitor lap it up and intend to keep them happy as customers, but are unwilling to negotiate a raw deal for your company. The strength and assiduity you display will be the determining factors between a sealed deal and a dead end. The bridge, if you will between the gap of expectations and your company’s offering!

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