Solutions not Excuses

Role of a Manager in Dealing with Conflict and Customer Grievances

Contributed on August 10, 2021 by Cheryl Viola, Executive Director, MBA

In the workplace when you start a new job you receive training. Depending on the job, the training could be short and other times it is more extensive. The one area of training that is not continually taught is how to deliver good customer service.

We are human, we become complacent and we all need reminders on delivering good customer service. I have recently heard stories of poor customer service that have escalated to the executive level. All the stories I have heard have a few things in common.  They included a lack of listening to the customer, not taking accountability, not showing empathy and the biggest problem was not problem-solving.

When a customer has a problem and has tried to communicate to the employee and feels they did not receive an adequate solution, they then ask to speak to a manager. My first question is why could the employee not solve the customer’s problem? Did they not know the answer and/or did they not have the authority to solve the problem? All problems are opportunities, opportunities for both individual and business growth.

Conflicts come when customers do not feel heard or understood. Be proactive and resolve conflicts before they worsen. This starts with empowering employees to solve problems. Most customer complaints can and should be handled by employees.

Conflict management skills have to be learned and practiced. Everyone needs to turn conflict into opportunities for bettering yourself, your team, your workplace and to build stronger customer service.

When handling complaints here are 4 simple steps:

1.            Stay calm and don’t give excuses.

We are all busy. Most companies today are short-staffed and are working hard to accommodate customers. When a customer has a complaint, they are seeking solutions, not excuses.

Recently I moved to a new home which required moving school districts. I started the process to transfer children out before the end of the school year. As the start of the new approached, I began to receive telephone calls, email, and text messages from the former school district.  I called each of the schools and asked them to remove me from the contact list. However, I was not removed from the contact list. I made numerous telephone calls to both school and the school district office. On the first day of school and I received emails, phone calls, and a text message that my child was absent from the very school they were not registered to attend. Each phone call I made I was told, that they were not listed… yet the phone calls continued. You can see how this was frustrating. I did not want excuses about the computer system or that they were short-staffed… by this time I wanted the solution and I wanted all communication to stop.

When dealing with someone who is frustrated it is best to remain calm and provide them with solutions. Your efforts for solutions will reward you with loyal customers.

2. Validate your customer

Reassure frustrated customers that they are fully understood. Even if you don’t agree, you need to de-escalate someone who is expressing anger.  Empathy goes far when defusing a tense situation. Customers want to know that you care about them and truly want to solve their problem.

3. Listen to understand

As a manager when you are called into a situation, asks: ‘Help me get up to speed. Let’s start from the beginning…”

Recently I met with someone who told me that many of their answers to my request would be “I do not know… but I will learn to find out.” What a great response! They showed empathy to a unique situation, recognized that they would not know the answers but would put in the work to find the answers for the solution.

4.            Focus on a solution

Good customer service with problem-solving can quickly turn a negative situation into a positive relationship and a lifelong customer.

Customer service is not just for external customers, it is important to use customer services skills within your company as well. When you hear negative customer feedback on a poor experience, use that as a tool to improve. It is the job of everyone in the organization to give customer service. Even if it is not your job, when you go the extra mile to help solve someone’s problem it will win you loyal customers.