The following editorial was written by one of Myra’s clients, Insurance Consumer Affairs Exchange (ICAE), following Myra’s Verbal Aikido Training at their annual conference in Newport Beach.
Myra Golden (Customer Experience Designer) states that customers are more savvy now than ever before.
Myra Golden, Customer Experience Designer, author of Beyond Wow, and a noted expert on customer service, shared with the group her insights and techniques on the concept and delivery of outstanding customer services.
Difficult customers—yes, they exist
Ms. Golden opened by noting customers are more savvy now than ever before. Although this sounds like a good thing, the net result is an increase in stress for consumer services professionals. How much of an increase? Well, according to Newsweek magazine, the stress level of consumer services professionals is comparable to that of air-traffic controllers and police officers. In short, the role of consumer services now ranks as one of the 10 most stressful jobs in the U.S.
Golden shared stories and a new vocabulary* with the group. Sometimes, she noted, difficult customers can be categorized as the consumer vigilante. These consumers are determined to force corporations—via the consumer affairs professional—to give in to the consumer vigilante’s demands—reasonable or not. This means the consumer affairs professional must develop a response plan.
OK, what is the solution?
Golden uses the concept of verbal Aikido—a response plan that stresses non-resistance, harmony and assertiveness. She encourages customer service professionals to recognize each spends more than 50 percent of their time on the dissatisfied customer—meaning the customer for whom nothing will be right (even if nothing was really wrong). That focus creates a huge drain on resources for those customers who have a solvable issue. The dissatisfied customers, or consumer vigilantes, need to be recognized as such and placed in a strategic “customer recovery plan.”
Myra discusses her verbal aikido approach in the 2-minute video below
About the plan
A customer-recovery plan empowers consumer affairs professionals to understand how to create calm; how to work with customers; how to reduce complaints; and how to create a positive conversation. This is done by:
Understanding the issue is not always the issue—many consumers will accept a mistake, but will not accept if the mistake is not quickly and fairly handled. Therefore, to determine how best to handle a complaint, consumer affairs professionals are encouraged to:
Know what the customer’s expectations and perceptions are—by asking questions to get all details possible, and
Have a consumer recovery plan ready to create confident, assertive (not aggressive) responses to address the consumer vigilante.
Strategically calm the consumer by:
1. Acknowledging emotion
Golden points out that anger must be recognized as such or it will escalate into a bigger problem. Consumer affairs professionals who show genuine concern and acknowledge the consumer’s anger are better equipped to handle issues. Golden urges the path of non-resistance to create calm from within—thereby inspiring a spirit of calm in the irate customer. Consumer affairs professionals, rather than feeling defensive, need to use comments such as: “I hate it that you even had to make this call.” “I can understand how frustrating this is.”
2. Relate and respond in the here and now
Consumer affairs professionals are not expected to know everything. Even stating uncertainty for the next step is an OK response. This response shows the professional as one who does not make assumptions and who treats the consumer as an individual. By allowing the consumer to be treated as an individual, with individual emotions and feelings, consumer professionals can work with the consumer without escalating any negative—and avoiding lock up. Comments such as, “I want to get to the bottom of this as much as you do,” have been known to unlock doors and save consumer relationships.
Active listening with a complaining consumer enables consumer professionals to obtain more and necessary information to help structure a lasting solution. Consumer professionals are encouraged to control the pacing of the conversation by asking questions and learning more—about the situation and the consumer. However, Golden cautioned, take the cue from the customer—a bottom-line customer just wants answers—therefore asking lots of questions may result in a negative encounter.
Once control has been established, it’s the consumer professional’s responsibility to move the customer to closure—meaning the emotion has been reduced and the rational has been re-instated.
Golden expresses how asking three back-to-back, close-ended questions can help diffuse a situation.
Golden notes this return to the rational as a “magic wand” that can be invoked by asking three relevant, closed-ended, questions, back-to-back. Why? Well, the relevant, non-repetitive, and genuinely necessary questions will force angry consumers to shift focus from emotional to factual information. In forcing this shift, consumer services professionals can lead the consumer toward a solution. For the insurance industry, suitable questions include:
• The first thing I need from you is….
• In case we are disconnected, what is your number?
• Name of your insurance company is…
• What is your claim number?
• Can you give me the exact date of occurrence?
Apply the skill
The consumer professionals attending were challenged to adopt, adapt, and apply the concepts reviewed to the insurance industry (whether regulator or carrier). As a group, two strong ideas were generated to enable consumer affairs professionals to calm down the attack. These included:
- Associating the irate customer with someone you know to help establish your empathy.
- Providing job shadowing opportunities to see the other side of the fence to help understand issues—so have producers work with consumer affairs professionals or invite a regulator in for a real-time visit.
Finally, all participants were encouraged to identify activities to commit to start doing, stop doing, and will continue to do. Golden noted this written commitment with all aspects of our lives would help empower change for the better—at work, home or play.
For more information regarding the Insurance Consumer Affairs Exchange (ICAE), including membership, please visit their website.