If you’re face to face—or phone to phone or terminal to terminal—with a customer who’s upset, a customer to whom something bad (in their opinion) has happened, consider putting the archetype of an adoring Italian mother to work for you.
She’s the spirited, if over the top, model I’ve been proposing for customer service recovery ever since she was introduced in my first book on customer service, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit, coauthored by the luminary Leonardo Inghilleri (who, himself, is as Italian as they come) with me, and I continue to suggest her as a mindset-enhancer when I’m on assignment as a customer service consultant or trainer.
Here’s how this hypothetical, doting, parent might respond after her child takes a tumble: a
Oh, my darling, look at what happened! Oh, you skinned your knee on that walkway, my bambino; let me kiss that terrible wound. Shall we watch a little TV? And here’s a lollipop for you while I bandage you up!
Minus the baby talk, this Italian mother is a great model for how to react to service failures. While it’s very much an exaggeration, the exaggeration is intended to make the following point clear: that it works much better to express your empathy to an upset customer than to take the more typical approach, which we might call the Courtroom Method:
Let’s sort out the facts of the situation. Were you wearing proper protective clothing per the sidewalk user’s manual at the time your knee impacted the concrete? And I need to ask, young fellow: Were you exceeding the sidewalk speed limit?
To repeat: This is an exaggeration to make a point. But the point is extremely important if you want to succeed in working with upset customers: Before you rush to solve a problem—or, worse, to assign blame—take a moment to acknowledge that the customer is upset and feels wronged.