How to put the challenges of a hot customer in perspective.
I admit it. I love working with hot customers. I’m the guy in your department who smells a hot customer a mile away and says, “Send him to me.” This attitude runs in my family. My dad, my mom, my sister, and my other sister, we all deal with hot customers. We’re not afraid of them. We’re happy to help out.
There is something I like about dealing with hot customers. They’re not boring for sure, but there is something else. I enjoy the feeling of turning a bad transaction around. I get a huge shot of the “happiness trifecta”, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin when I help a customer through a rough patch of business. When I’m at work, I’m hunting for that feeling.
Now sure, there are risks involved. I may do or say the wrong thing. I might make a mistake. But the payoff is huge. A man or woman who knows how to deal with hot customers is a valuable asset in any company. We’re bound to run into a few if we work in customer service and I’ve been doing customer service since at least 2013. In my life, I’ve dealt with many irate, unreasonable, sometimes very angry people. For much of my life, I didn’t know that I could apply the skills I have learned in dealing with those people, to customer service.
A good business model will have a risk mitigation system built-in. I think we call that, “good customer service”. In my job, I work on a customer service *team*. That means if I can’t fix a problem, I can find someone who can. And years of training on Google has taught me the art of thinking by association. I have learned through the years that I can always find someone who has what it takes to fix a problem that I can’t fix myself, for a customer. That team behind me is there to limit my risk of failure.
One of the first things I do when I work with a hot customer is I put on a sort of mental heat shield. I’m not here to do battle, I’m here to help someone out of a fire. My hot customer has someone to answer to. He’s got a manager breathing down his neck. She’s got a huge account she wants to keep happy.
They all have managers. My job is to make their manager happy. My job is to make them look good by solving their problem. If they look good, their manager looks good, and then I look good. I don’t worry about my appearance, I worry about theirs. If I take care of them, they will take care of me. That’s job security in a nutshell.
There is another aspect to the mental heat shield that I mentioned above. Nothing that a hot customer says to me is about me. They don’t know me, therefore, they can’t judge me. I’m only as good as the skills I present and the tools I have available to me. That means that customers can’t make a value judgment about me as a person. They can only discuss what I did for the customer in the heat of the moment. That means I never have to take personally anything that the customer says. Now I’m ready to help.
I know now that I have a team at my disposal to help. I know that whatever my customer says to me is not about me. I know that he's the one having a bad day, not me. My job is to make his day go better. My job is to fix the problem, and I take command of the situation because I know about the team and that I’m impervious to what the customer says. Whatever he says, I remind myself that it’s not about me. Whatever I can’t fix, there is someone more experienced than me that can fix it until I gain that experience to do it myself.
Wash, rinse, and repeat. A hundred times. A thousand times. With repetition, I learn. With each mistake, I learn. The only fatal mistake is giving up. The rest of the mistakes I make will only make me stronger. The stronger I get with experience, the more easily I can have empathy for the customer. Customers love empathy.
Empathy is a sign of intelligence. Empathy says, “I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there before. I can help.” That’s what a customer is looking for when they call me. That’s what a customer needs when he’d rather be doing 10 other things to make his manager happy. A customer needs to know that I will stick with him until the problem is resolved and that he can report the same to his manager.
I know. I talk a lot about managers. That’s because I think of managers a lot. I think of my manager, sure, but not as much as I think of the customer’s manager. Everyone has a manager. Everyone has someone they have to answer to. Everyone has to help someone else to find their place in this world. This is what I think about whenever I am interacting with a customer.
When a customer says something that could be interpreted as offensive, I hear fear. Fear of the manager. Fear of not looking good. Fear of failure. I’m very sensitive to their tone of voice, their choice of words, the temperature on the phone or in the email. I’m thinking of all of that when I approach a customer.
Since my job is to fix software, I always lead off with a request for a meeting. I want boots on the ground with Zoom or WebEx so that I can see what’s happening and so that my customer can tell me in his or her words, what’s happening and what needs to be fixed. Once I have a view of their desktop and command of the situation, then things begin to roll. I can do this because I have the team and the frame of mind behind me to support me.
I’ve had people tell me that I fixed a problem in 5 minutes that took them weeks or months to fix with other people. I worked with a woman who had been trying to fix a problem for 2 months, and while I was working, and making things work, she giggled on the phone like, “Is this really happening? It’s happening!” I’ve solved what seemed to be simple problems to me for people who have been bounced from department to department until they land in my queue. And then I fix it for them. When stuff like that happens, I’m high for a week, and I don’t develop a tolerance for that high. It’s always the same.
This isn’t to say that the people who couldn’t fix the problems that I managed to fix are somehow, inferior. No. When I fix a problem that others could not fix, I frame that in the context of skills and capacities. Everyone has their focus. The reason I have my job helping other people with computers is that those other people are focused on something else for their work. That’s job security for me. That’s also specialization of work, and specialization of work is required for a civilization to run.
I work in customer service because I enjoy helping people. I enjoy the feeling I get when I help people. I enjoy the feedback I get when I help a customer with a problem that has been difficult for them to solve. And I like to hear that sense of relief for the customer when the problem is finally resolved for them. I know that every hot customer that I help adds value to the work that I do in the mind of the customer and my manager. I see every hot customer as an opportunity for advancement.