7 Tough Customer Service Questions

It’s time to brush up on your problem solving skills by answering seven of the top tough customer service questions.

Customer asking questions

1. “Why don’t you have it in stock?” This question can best be handled with the future present past technique.

The answer might sound something like this:

“Mr. Customer it is my job to make sure that all of your parts orders are handled in timely manner. As of this moment, the part required to repair your widget is out of stock. Although we have met your needs in the past, we have dropped the ball on this one. This is what I can do. I will express ship the part to your address on a priority drop shipment and leave a discount for your next order in your file. How does that sound?”

Here I have moved away from a reply based on the “you” of the question and addressed “what” I can do about the situation.

2. “Why didn’t you or your company tell me?” Nearly every time I have ever heard this it was the result of an employee not being fully trained, not following procedure or just not following through. The real root of this question is that the person now distrusts you and your company, and is looking for a reassurance or a reason to re-engage that trust.

Your reply might sound like this. “Mr. Customer, we did not hold up our end of the relationship we share. It’s my job to make every effort to repair and regain your trust. I will personally handle all of your future requests until we straighten this out. Does that sound acceptable to you?” .

Here the future present past technique is reversed.

And don’t get defensive. Look, if they are upset that you didn’t notify them about something, you standing there defending the indefensible is wasting their time and demonstrating that you have more interest in covering your butt than in repairing the relationship.

3. “Why did I pay less the last time I was here?” I hated hearing this question and actually I hate writing about it now. You and I both know that there are a million different reasons that prices change. However, if there has been say a 20% increase in the price of an item in the past week, you might have “some ‘splainin to do Lucy.” (unless you are an oil company)

Your answer might sound like this. “Mr. Customer, there is a price difference between this visit and your last visit. May I take a look at your files, receipt, record (whatever you have to use as a reference point)? Here is what I can do. We will credit your account for the difference on this increase, however, please be aware that future increases will occur from time to time as our costs change. Is that fair?”

It never was easy for me to talk about this subject, yet after I had dealt with it so many times, I felt that having a little script would be better than winging it. Don’t you agree?

4. “Can I have a refund on this item?” Another of those money questions. It’s not too hard to deal with if the item has been purchased recently. It’s much harder to do when the item is discontinued, 6 months or even a year old or worse yet, cannot be returned to stock and cannot be returned for an RFC. (Return For Credit)

There is one rule you have to follow. If the refund is due the Customer, give it to them!

Don’t begrudgingly process the refund and then hand over the coin with a snide or sarcastic comment like “Thanks for you business.” (I actually witnessed that once at a retailer.) Or worse yet, blame the customer for asking for a refund. I witnessed that as well at a dealership.

If you know that the item cannot be returned for RFC or there has been an extremely long time since purchase, offer a compromise.

It might sound like this. “Mr. Customer, this part/product/service was purchased quite some time ago. What I propose is this. I can offer a 50% credit for the part/product/service on a purchase today or I can offer a store credit for 50% for a future purchase. Which would you prefer?” Giving them an alternative is the best way to tell them you care and are willing to help, but not get taken advantage of.

5. “You guys did it for me the last time I was here! Why can’t you do it this time?” This is the other statement I absolutely hated to hear. It means that during the last visit something happened and someone either circumvented a policy, procedure or process to expedite a situation or take care of a situation.

Worse, you may have trained your Customer to expect the additional product or service every time they come in while setting a precedent if you have not followed the action steps below. In a court of law, precedence is paramount to proceeding.

You must properly explain to the Customer exactly what you are doing and WHY you are doing it. You must properly document what service or product you provided. Documentation beats conversation every time. Make sure that the word “favor” is not used. Do something once as a “favor” and you are cooking yourself in your own juice.

In Customer Service we don’t do “favors.” We provide a product, service or experience for a price. There are no favors. You either handle the request or you don’t. Great Customer Service Reps handle requests.

6. “You said the problem/product was fixed!” Yep, it happens. It didn’t get done right. In the car business, this is what’s known as a comeback.

This type of statement from the Customer is generally a statement of frustration, anger and fear. You said you were going to fix it and you didn’t. This is another one of those times when it is not in your best interests to defend the indefensible.

Acknowledge and make amends. “Mr. Customer, we’ve let you down. It’s my job to get this repaired/replaced/etc. and back to you as quick as possible. This is what I will do. I will order a new part/product/etc. or provide a new service and have it delivered/repaired/provided to you by the close of our business day today/tomorrow. In addition I am authorizing a rental/replacement etc. to take care of your immediate needs. How does that sound?”

Notice I did not go into a long winded apology. I said “we dropped the ball.” You can use anything along those lines as long as you acknowledge the Customer and their situation. The real thing they are looking for is for you to handle the request. Not a long winded sound byte.

7. “You said you were going to call me when the part/repair/service is completed!” The absolute worst thing you can hear as a Customer Service Professional.

The one thing you cannot do is not follow up!

You can do everything right, from the greeting all the way to sending them out the door. If you have not followed up with them on something YOU are responsible for, all the schmoozing in the world will not make them trust you again and most likely they will move on somewhere else.

Every time I had a Customer in my office that had not been followed up with on something that was very important to them, the situation turned out badly. And by badly, I mean it cost 2 or 3 times as much to repair the situation than would have been spent if it had been handled properly. It might be that the best you can do is convince your Customer that you and your staff are incompetent. That’s the best! The worst you can do is to let them believe you don’t care! Nice choice, huh!

It might sound like this. “Mr. Customer, I am not going to mince words here. We did not complete our end of this transaction. Here is what I am going to do. I will credit this transaction and ask you to extend some consideration in using us again. I am sure that we can meet our obligations to you as our Customer and earn back your trust.”

In all of those situations, you will want to acknowledge the Customer’s disappointment, remain calm, set aside the emotion, deal with the facts, form an action statement of what you are going to do, offer the solution, ask for acceptance, confirm the result.

Those are seven of the top tough questions and some possible responses. Try them modify them to fit your situation or write your own scripts. For the manager, you might have some Lunch and Learns with a list of the top ten questions you face and role play some answers. It’s an easy way to have some training in house.

The important thing is to have some answers in place and a real sincere desire to provide great customer service.

About the Author

Leonard Buchholz leads seminars in Customer Service, Attitude and Skills and Management. He also provides coaching and consulting in Customer Service.

  • josie paul July 12, 2016, 4:59 pm

    Calming a customer down and using a one time deal to solve the issue. This will usually help in maintaining them as a customer.

Leave a Comment