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Excuses, Excuses

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Six everyday excuses that bruise your brand.

Your customers don’t buy excuses—literally. The more your team members rationalize poor service, the more they’ll cost your organization in trust equity. See if your employees use any of these six common customer service excuses:

1. “It’s against policy”

Customer service policies must make obvious sense to customers. If not, overly restrictive and outdated rules practically invite customers to argue with employees or rant about your brand in social media. Set your policies around what’s best for your brand and best for customer loyalty. Don’t let lawyers establish your customer service policies. If you must have an unpopular policy, ensure that your employees understand it, can get behind it and can easily explain it to customers. More importantly, train and empower frontline employees to overrule policies when common sense dictates.

2. “Our shipping people messed up”

Customers have zero patience for service providers who blame foul-ups on someone else. Blaming others makes customers assume that they’ll get the proverbial run-around and intensifies their aggravation, making a bad situation worse. So take the opposite approach—accept responsibility. Say, “Looks like we messed up. I’m sorry about that.” Most customers realize it wasn’t actually you who made the error. And they’ll respect the fact that you are nonetheless stepping-up to own it.

3. “We’re swamped this time of year”

This excuse is similar to the recorded on-hold phone message you hear from call centres: “Due to high call volumes…” Essentially this excuse tells customers that the organization has experienced this problem repeatedly, but (since they don’t really care that much about customer experience) hasn’t bothered to do anything to fix it. That’s better left unsaid. Best to simply thank the customer for their patience, and get on with what you can do for them.

4. “I’m not authorized to do that”

In my customer service seminars we talk about employee status, and how it’s a mistake to put a customer at a higher or lower status than the service provider. Instead, you want employees to be viewed by customers as their trusted advisors. So when you need to ask higher-ups for input, explain to the customer that you want to look into this further to see what you can come up with. Then discreetly discuss the matter with your supervisor. When afterwards you report back to the customer, tell them, “Here’s what I came up with.” That makes customers feel like they’re dealing with an equal, not wasting their time.

5. “I assumed your wanted…”

Customers want service providers to help them make decisions. And in the case where customers view you as their trusted advisor, they even want you to make decisions on their behalf. But that only works when the service provider has discussed the customer’s needs and overall objectives. We earn the right to make assumptions after talking with the customer and gaining their respect. Paraphrase your understanding of their needs with words like “sounds like”. For example, “Sounds like you’d like to…” After you’ve done that, customers will be much more comfortable and confident with your assumptions.

6. “Sorry, I’m new here”

Actually, in this case customers will accept this excuse, which is why I put it last. Customers can be wonderfully compassionate when a newbie, who realizes something is taking longer than it should, apologizes for the delay and explains the situation. Tip: rather than saying “bear with me” (which sounds like an order), instead say, “I appreciate your patience.” For example, “Sorry for the delay, this is my first week here. I appreciate your patience with me.” Now the customer feels like a hero for being nice.

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