Shep Hyken's Customer Service Blog

Sometimes It’s Okay to Ask a Customer to Repeat the Story

Start Over From The BeginningCustomer Opportunity

Just last week I wrote an article about companies that ask customers to repeat their problems, account numbers and more. So consider this a follow-up to that article that approaches the subject from a completely different angle. For example, getting transferred from one customer service representative to the next and having to repeat the issue. Or when a customer is asked to use the touchpad on their phone to type in their account number, only to be asked for the same number when the customer support representative finally connects with the customer.

Having to repeat information is frustrating and a waste of everyone’s time – usually. But, sometimes it’s okay to ask a customer to repeat their story. But, it has to be the right time. This is how it works.

First, let’s hope that customer has not been abused by being asked repeatedly for account information or having been passed from one customer support rep to the next. And, even if they have talked to two or three reps, this still works, provided, and this is important, you are the last person they have to share the story with.

So, the customer calls and they are upset. You start by acknowledging their issue and apologizing for the problem. You’re just starting to make them feel better. They may even believe, because of your positive attitude about helping them, that you are the one that will resolve their issue. This customer has told you the story. It is extremely important that you let this customer know that you are the one that is now in charge of making him or her happy. But, this will only work if you truly have been empowered to do so. You can’t move this customer to another support level. If, for some reason you do, then you have to stay with them until the issue is resolved.

This is when you ask them to repeat their story, and this is how you ask: “Again, I’m sorry for the frustration you’re having. I’m going to ask you to start over from the beginning. I want to make sure I understand exactly what happened. I may have a few questions and I may even take some notes so I can completely understand what happened. I’m here to help you.”

Obviously you’ll need to modify this to suit the specific issue, but this is generally how it works. Now, there are a few key points to remember.

  • One, you apologized again.
  • Two, you didn’t use the word repeat. You asked the customer to start over from the beginning. This is crucial language.
  • Three, you mentioned you might have a few questions, and you should. This shows the customer that you are listening.
  • Four, you mentioned you would be taking notes. The customer may hear you typing in the background and you don’t want to be perceived as multi-tasking. Because you’re taking notes, it will demonstrate that you’re fully engaged in understanding the problem.
  • Fifth, actively listen to the customer. Use encouraging words and sounds such as uh huh, oh, ok, or I understand, to show you’re listening. And reinforce your understanding even more by restating their issue back to them for example “What I’m hearing is… “or “Sounds like what you’re saying is…” and summarize the issue back to them to ensure you fully understand their problem.

By handling the situation this way, you are moving the customer who may be on a rant, to the opportunity to vent. As the customer vents about the problem, you may notice that he or she is starting to relax. Anger is turning into a confident attitude about the situation potentially being resolved.

If all goes well, you will resolve the issue and the customer will feel good about you and your company. Worst case, if it turns out someone else has to be involved, this customer feels they have an ally as you follow through with the customer.

Nobody – and no company – is perfect. There will be complaints. But, the customer’s discontent or anger shouldn’t escalate after he or she has called the support center. A problem handled well may actually increase the customer’s confidence in the company to a level that’s even higher than if the problem had never happened at all.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact or www.hyken.com. For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to www.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXVI, Shep Hyken)

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  1. Just love the article. I’m 59 years old and completing starting a Customer Experience online business. Anyone can share where should I start? Or interested in a joint-venture?
    Thanks.

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