Use the LEAP method to solve any issue and defuse even the most irate of customers.
There’s an old adage in customer service that has proven consistently true over the years—whether you’re product is apples, airplanes or alligators, customers always call for one reason; they have a problem.
No matter how good your company, your product or your people are, customers don’t call to tell you that. They call you (or email or chat or come into your office) because they have a problem that needs solving. Far too often, these support requests don’t get solved and the customer leaves dissatisfied.
Many years ago I was tasked with building the customer support department for an emerging ISP start-up. The company had an office location in every market staffed with a customer service representative. Often, customers with a service or billing issue would skip calling the 800 number and just walk into the office to find an answer. In some cases, they were irate and many times abusive to the staff. We were churning support representatives as they quickly burned out from the stress of dealing with upset customers without a strategy on how to help them. We needed to develop a framework our support team and do it fast. The need was comprehensive, whether for the market place or on the phone, we needed a strategy that could be used to consistently defuse a situation in a quick and effective manner.
We spent time observing agents in the market-place and listening to countless hours of phone calls to identity what went wrong. What caused a situation to escalate and result in a customer to becoming upset? Why were our agents not solving the actual issue often enough that it led to repeat calls and dissatisfied customers? Could we create a consistent method for helping the customer regardless of the issues?
What we discovered was that our agents were making the same mistakes repeatedly. Whether they were in market and dealing with customers face to face or on the phone, a few small, simple mistakes were creating the majority of issues we were seeing. This discovery led to the creation of a simple method of responding to any customer request regardless of channel.
The LEAP method consists of four basic steps. Obviously, any one of these could be more or less complex or time-consuming depending on the situation but the basic process remains the same:
Listen – The most important and most frequently ignored first step is to simply listen to the customer. The key is not to listen in order to respond, but to listen to understand. Walk into any call center anywhere and just observe agents on the phone. How often do you see an agent “listening” to the customer explain their issue while they simultaneously finish their notes from the last call, attempt to pull up the customer record, search the knowledge base to begin troubleshooting the issue or doing any one of 1000 other things that distract their attention from the one task they should be concentrating on the most: listening to the customer explain their issue. Take a minute or two and simply stop and listen to the customer. That goes a long way toward solving the problem.
Empathize – A frequent mistake people make is to think that empathizing means apologizing. It’s a subtle difference but it can be key in helping customers feel heard and understood. While apologizing is simply expressing regret or remorse that something negative happened, empathizing is showing that you understand the feelings caused by what happened. That difference is huge in helping a customer, especially an irate one. It may seem small but the difference between, “I’m sorry your plans changed” and “I know how frustrating it can be when your plans change,” is enormous. Empathizing creates a bond between the agent and the customer that shows they’re both in it together.
Acknowledge the problem – Often, the reason a customer gives for calling is not the problem. It can sometimes be a symptom of the problem. In other cases, the customer may call with several related issues or may not even be fully sure of the problem. Acknowledging the problem serves two purposes; 1) It clarifies exactly what the issue is before attempting to solve it and 2) It lets the customer know both they and the agent are on the same page and working together to solve the issue. It can be as simple as “If I understand you correctly, you have a refundable ticket and you want to cancel it.”
Provide a solution – The worst thing an agent can say in any customer service encounter is “there’s nothing I can do.” There is always something they can do. It may not be the solution that the customer wants but there is a solution to the problem. That is the key. Find a solution for the customer’s problem and offer it to show that while their specific request may not be possible, you’re working together in this to find a solution to their issue. Case study after case study have shown the number one driver of customer dissatisfaction is not issues with the agent themselves. The one factor that causes customers to be most dissatisfied more than any other is lack of resolution. Offering a solution to the customer, even if it’s not what they may have originally wanted goes along way toward creating that satisfied customer.
Imagine a scenario where your agents are handling customer service calls for an airline when a customer calls in. They tell the agent that their plans have changed and they need to cancel a non-refundable ticket. This is a situation with the potential to escalate and become irate very quickly. By utilizing the LEAP method, the situation can be defused and the customer left, if not happy, at least satisfied. Consider the difference between two responses:
- “I’m sorry your plans changed but your ticket is non-refundable. There’s nothing I can do. I can’t refund your money.”
- “I know how frustrating it can be when plans change and you have to cancel a trip you were really looking forward to. That’s always disappointing. If I understand you correctly, you bought this ticket for your trip. Your plans have changed and you can’t use it anymore. You want to cancel it but the ticket is non-refundable. While I can’t refund the money, by canceling it now ahead of your trip you’ll have a credit for the purchase amount available to use any time over the next year. While I know it’s not exactly what you were looking for, that credit can be used on any flight so whether you want to rebook this trip or go somewhere else, it’s there and ready to use.”
In both cases, the customer is not getting exactly what they wanted when they called in. However, in the first response there is no connection with the customer, nothing to show the agent understands the real issue and no real resolution. The second response, using the LEAP method, has a good chance of keeping the customer satisfied and returning as a customer in the future.
Everyone in this business knows that having one dissatisfied customer means that the negative feeling left with the customer will be passed on to others. Leaping over this problem by finding a solution for every customer is effective not only for retaining that customer, but ensuring this satisfaction of a customer’s problem is most likely communicated to others considering using your products. This not only resolves employee turnover, but has the potential to actually increase your business.
About the Author
Michael Walzak is an expert in customer service. Now owner of Walzak Consulting Group, he has over 20 years of experience from small start-ups to the largest call centers in the world.