A few weeks ago, I was part of a small group of faculty and donors who presented a workshop for student finalists in the annual pitch competition hosted by the entrepreneurship center in the college of business. Since the finalists are from a variety of disciplines, and have different experiences in business and public speaking, the workshop was designed to offer guidance on what they should include in their slide decks, tips on public speaking, stage presence, and so on.
There was a great energy in the room and we had productive discussions. There were a few recurring themes, but honesty and empathy seemed to be the most referenced among the speakers and students. One discussion we had reminded me of a situation from many years ago, when an acquaintance came to me for advice on how to handle a series of customer complaints. I don’t remember the specifics, but customers had been complaining about his interactions with them, and the volume of complaints in a relatively short period of time caught the attention of his supervisors, which caused him a lot of stress… We discussed much of the same topics as in the workshop: honesty, empathy, engagement, managing expectations, tone, etc.
As I continued to ask questions, it became clear there was a customer service aspect missing from his approach. While the acquaintance was not in a “Customer Service” position, I stressed what all entrepreneurs know: if you interact with customers in any capacity regardless of what your title is, you are in Customer Service. Now think of the last time you reached out to a business to tell them what a great job they’re doing. The reality is that most of the time Customer Service reps field complaints all day long! The temptation for those unaccustomed to working in that environment is to push back on criticism and complaints, especially by those who are highly skilled at what they do.
As soon as we identified the root of the issue, I suggested he do three things that have worked for me over the years:
This approach almost always diffuses the situation from the outset as it demonstrates empathy and a willingness to help. Customers feel heard and see you as an active partner working from the same side of an issue. It’s been my experience that it is much less expensive to solve the issue by being flexible with a policy, warranty, price, or whatever, than it is to lose a customer. If a customer is upset enough to call, they will be upset enough to not buy from you again and likely tell anyone who will listen—all of which does harm to your brand. Successful Customer Service reps and salespeople can even turn these interactions into life-long customers.
I’m not sure if he took my advice, but his stress subsided and he’s been with that company for many years. How might you turn a tense customer interaction into a positive for your arts venture?
Thanks for reading,
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