The reality is that once a situation has been escalated, it’s often too late to save it. Your best bet is to focus on preventing escalations from happening in the first place. “Oh, sure,” you may be saying to yourself right now. “If only it were that easy.” The good news is that it actually is just that simple.
A study by Mary Jo Bitner et al showed us that “It is the employees’ responses to negative incidents, not the incidents themselves, that most often leads to dissatisfaction.” Basically, it tells us that when a customer gets upset and escalates a situation, it’s because we likely triggered it.
Our company’s experience supports these findings. You know when you call a technical support number and you get that message “this call may be recorded for quality purposes?” Imagine if you could capture all of the calls that turned into escalations or “difficult customers,” then rewind them to see exactly where things went wrong. Well, we’ve done that with hundreds of calls, and in all but a few instances the escalation was preventable – and unwittingly triggered by an employee.
Problem-Solving & Service Recovery is Crucial
We are living in an increasingly self-serve world. Whether we’re buying airline tickets, trying to resolve an issue with our computers or checking out in a grocery store, companies are aggressively steering us toward do-it-yourself options. (if you have an Adobe account and an hour to kill, just log in and see how determined they are to not give you a telephone number.) Because of this, customer interactions with humans are steadily trending toward problem-solving and service recovery situations.
This is pointing toward the increased importance of service recovery skills for anyone who deals with customers. The better we become at dealing with issues and emotions during an initial interaction, the less frequently we have to deal with escalations. It begins, however, with us having the courage to accept responsibility for a lot of those negative interactions we find ourselves in.
“How many of us can honestly say that we haven’t, at some point in our lives, been a customer from Hell?”