Dealing with Tough Questions from Customers

“It is not the answer that enlightens but the question”. – Eugene Ionesco

Customers have loads of enlightenment then (according to the quote)! They constantly ask questions and dealing with the tough questions from customers can be quite intimidating. Unfortunately for most customer service representatives, being in the line of fire of these tough questions from customers is a daily, many times a day is a routine part of their job. There is nothing to do but to deal with them. What makes matters worse is that with the increasing competition and enhanced ‘touchiness’ of customers, answering these tough questions from customers has become even more daunting. The persons responsible for answering customer questions must know what to say, how to put it across and have a quick thinking mind to salvage any potentially detrimental situation.

The frontline customer service representatives are the ones who first interact with the target and existing customer base and their manner of dealing with tough questions from customers can be the difference between enhancing the company’s reputation and putting it in a hole. Their jobs and those of their managers are at stake too. Saying one wrong thing has the potential to blow out of proportion with a customer leaving and even suing the company. Learning and practicing to listen attentively and then speaking measured words are an effective method to save the company from unpleasant and hostile situations. When you have spoken the word, it reigns over you. When it is unspoken you reign over it. — Arabian Proverb.

It may seem obvious that one should measure the words spoken. However, in stressful jobs like customer service dealing constantly with tough questions from customers can take its toll. Companies would do well to invest in training and coaching programs for this set of staff to prepare them mentally and conversationally to be able to handle the tough questions from customers. Sound knowledge of the company and product is also helpful to fend off customer irritation. The staff members must be provided with adequate support, updated technology and leader guidance to handle tough questions from customers with composure and self-assurance.
No company is immune from tough customers and problematic situations. This would mean that customer ire and tough questions from customers are also a given. The reactions and responses they receive from your company or its representatives can either make them very happy or turn them into vengeful foes that will leave no chance to tarnish your reputation and also post negative comments over social media sites. Unless your company is thoroughly prepared and has an in-depth understanding of their customer base, it would be almost impossible to recover from the shabby answers given to the tough questions from customers. Preparation is essential even if it seems cumbersome and time consuming.

– If you have thoroughly analysed and understood the mind-set of your current customer base you would be able to predict their questions. You would know what to expect. If the question posed is different to what you anticipated, it is better to wait before responding. Let the customer know that you have noted the issue and then provide them a timeline within which you will respond. Ensure that you keep to the timeline.

– It’s important to not take their questions or remarks personally. It may be tough when faced with the situation, but unless you detach yourself from the questions you would always take them as personal barbs. Remember to put yourself in the customer’s place – the frustration and discomfort they are facing due to something that your company did. Understand your customers state of mind and separate the emotion from the actual words – they could just be misinformed. Letting them vent and showing empathy would normally work to calm the customer making them more likely to listen to what you say.

– Knowing your customers well would allow you to anticipate the question and doubt the customer may have. Start out your comments with these doubts answered – they would be left with nothing but a feeling of being heard and understood. From a customer’s point of view, this is always a good thing!

– Setting appropriate and reasonable expectations from the start of the business relationship will keep a lot of tough questions from customers at bay. If you are unsure of whether what the customer is demanding is within your scope of expertise, defer the response. Let someone adept at handling situations and questions like these deal with it. Answering incorrectly to tough questions from customers not only serves to anger them more but also tarnishes your company’s credibility beyond repair.

– Always rephrase your understanding of their question. Leave out the harsh words as you rephrase and then provide them with the most suitable and appeasing answer.

– Never add fuel to the fire by responding harshly or appearing unsympathetic. Always remain courteous and composed even when you know that the tough questions from customers at the time are unjustified. However, under no circumstance should you tolerate and put up with personal remarks and insults. Let the customer know that they have crossed to the side that is unacceptable and you will not tolerate it. Ask them to stick to the facts and put across their views in a reasonable and decent manner.
Tough questions from customers can be even more intimidating and daunting when posed in face to face interactions. Most often how another person will react and speak with regard to a situation, is unpredictable and could catch you off guard. It’s important to know how to keep your composure and appear relaxed and in control.

– Do not allow your discomfort to show on your face. Breathe deeply as this will allow you think and listen clearly. You need to keep your mind and body relaxed so that the tone of voice and words you use come out the way you wish to express.

– The tough questions from customers coupled with their anger and rudeness could be reason enough to return the harshness. Never speak before thinking – collect your thoughts, calm your mind and speak with carefully selected words. Keep silent if you are unsure of your words – but maintain reasonable eye contact so that the customer knows that you are listening. Silence could be mistaken for ignoring and would only get the customer angrier. Keeping silent even when you know you have the right answer helps to dispel some of the negativity and friction. Speak only after the customer has completely vented.

– Remember to smile (not laugh or sneer). A warm smile is reassuring and will serve to calm the customer and let you gain control of the conversation. The customer would be more inclined to let you speak, provide solutions and maybe even accept them. In any case it is said – “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight”.

– Never undermine the importance of eye contact. When used correctly, it has the ability to keep the customer engaged and in a mood to listen and the customer knows that you are listening to them with attention. Eye contact does not mean staring at the customer – it is effectively looking directly at their face without constantly staring in to the eyes.

– Keep a confident posture – stand tall, smile, use your hands sparingly and speak with complete confidence. Avoid a shifty gaze or nervous movements as this will only anger the customer more feeling that they are dealing with an incompetent member of the company.

Customer service is about serving the customer. Remember you are not doing them a favour since you are charging them a fee and if you are not doing a good job you should be ready and willing to answer tough questions from customers, repeatedly.

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