For nearly a century, especially in customer-facing businesses, this has been the foundational assumption upon which customer service policies were built.
Today, it’s still a good rule of thumb, but thanks in part to the always-on world stage called social media, we’ve now all seen too many examples of customers being wrong to still take seriously the notion that they’re always right. The more extreme cases often make us wonder—whatever happened to basic human decency?
In this report we speak with Adam Bacsalmasi, CEO of Similicious, about how small and midsize businesses can deal with difficult customers.
We also take a look at some IT solutions that help keep a customer’s experience high … even when their basic human decency drops to new lows.
One Canadian Company’s Solution to Restoring Human Decency
Similicious is a Canadian company that sells phone SIM cards to travelers on their way to Canada. By purchasing a card in advance, travelers can bring and use their own phones while visiting that great nation to our north. Similicious grabbed our attention because of the human decency clause it has inserted into its customer relationships:
Put simply, the Similicious Human Decency Clause outlines expectations for how both customers and customer service agents should treat each other. We spoke with founder and CEO Adam Bacsalmasi to learn the backstory of the human decency clause (HDC) and how it can help your SMB:
Q: What was customer support like before the HDC?
We implemented a 1-800 customer support number when we launched Similicious five years ago, then a live chat system, then email support. A few years ago we switched to email-only customer support, since a lot of our customers are in completely different time zones and we couldn’t keep up. But the emails we were getting were very, very rude, and lot were angry (yelling, swearing, threatening to post on social media about our incompetence etc.).
Q: Why is the HDC an effective solution?
We implemented our HDC (which customers agree to when they place an order) as a simple reminder that the person that is reading their email is also a human being and they are simply trying to do their job as best as possible.
With online conversations, most people instantly ratchet up the animosity since they are only looking at a computer screen and don’t realize that there is a human face behind it. Usually, once we remind them that they agreed to our HDC clause and that they agreed that if they were rude in any way we are no longer obligated to provide support, they apologize for their behavior and work with us to solve the issue at hand.
Q: Did you have trouble retaining agents because of the tone of angry customer calls? Was there a bottom-line impact on your business?
We didn’t have issues retaining agents, but we found that our responses to these customers were not as helpful as they could have been. When someone is being mean to you, your first instinct is to deal with them as quickly as possible and move on—not try to patiently help—which usually would lead to a lost sale.
Q: Were these mostly technical and troubleshooting issues, or were most asking standard “Where’s my order?” questions?
They would be about 50% technical and 50% shipping issues. The majority of the technical issues were solved very quickly, […] and once the customer realized they overlooked a setting, they were much more courteous. We have had shipping issues, […] but these are out of our control. Sometimes the post office loses a shipment, sometimes customs holds a shipment, and sometimes the customer selected a shipping speed that was too slow for their SIM card to arrive before their departure, which we can do nothing about. All we can do is ship a new SIM card (if there’s time) or provide a refund.
Q: Did you find/use any helpful tricks before deciding on the HDC?
Whenever we received an angry email we just tried to slow down and breathe for a minute. Then we’d explain to the customer that we are humans—sometimes mistakes happen, but we’re here to try and help them as best we can. The tricky thing with our business is that it’s very time sensitive: if a mistake happens we might not have time to fix it, so we understand our customer’s frustration.
Q: What philosophy informs the HDC?
When I set out to solve this problem I looked at it from our customers point of view, as well as from my own experiences dealing with large companies. If I place an order from Amazon I don’t really expect a human on the other end to reply with sympathy—typically it’s a canned response from one of many customer support agents.
Our approach to customer support is to not hide behind an email address and remind customers that we are in fact people. Customers placing an order through a website miss the human interaction. The HDC reminds them that we are all humans on the other side: we are not a large corporation and mistakes may happen, but we will do our best to fix them.
Restore Civility with the Right IT
Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, businesses can take steps to minimize the frustrations their customers feel and express. For starters:
✔ Remember that a majority of customers will search online for an answer before directly calling or emailing a company. A robust, accurate and up-to-date online self-service resource will help more customers find what they need, before their frustration rears its ugly head.
✔ Consider giving customer service agents more freedom to have natural conversations. Research has shown that customers appreciate natural-sounding conversations over those that sound heavily scripted. It also shows that attempts to make scripted dialogues sound natural usually fall flat.
✔ Make sure you offer the service channels that your customers most prefer using. For web-based businesses, live chat has become a game changer. It requires very little customer effort and questions are answered immediately and without needing to pick up the phone or write an email.
✔ Use software to help monitor rising tensions. Freshdesk, for example, has a “Frustration Monitor” application to help spot the signs of frustration in customer service interactions. Spotting them early is the best way of preventing those frustrations from snowballing out of control or onto the public stage.
If you already receive customer complaints or service requests on a social media channel, then social media monitoring tools can be invaluable. You can also learn more about integrating social customer service into your overall support strategy.