Whether it’s through a momentary lapse in memory or an obscure query throwing you off guard, a customer has asked you something and you’re not prepared to deliver a satisfactory answer immediately.
It can, and often does, happen to almost any professional in the workplace. Don’t fault yourself for not being a know it all. Instead, master a few techniques to appropriately handle situations where customers may ask you something that you aren’t immediately prepared to answer.
Spend more time listening and asking
Some people are long winded and rather wordy. They may frame a question in a confusing way, leaving you to believe you don’t know how to answer it, or even worse, that you don’t have the faintest idea what they’re talking about. Don’t immediately resort to a panic response. Instead, gently get to the root of the question.
It might be that the customer is asking about a product or service you don’t even offer. If that’s the case, you can simply inform them that they can seek the answer from the appropriate authority. If the question is rooted in a customer’s misunderstanding, it will only take you a moment to clear things up. Ask further questions if you need to.
Pick out what you know
Even if you can’t be the sum of all wisdom for a customer, you can at least offer a few helpful gems. If their question is layered or multi-faceted (or if they have a wealth of questions), answer what you can. A partial immediate answer is always better than a look of confusion and some stumbling around. Answer what you’re prepared to answer. If you need more information to completely satisfy the customer, worry about the last. Answer what you can answer at first. You’ll appear knowledgeable, even if you need to do some fact checking or bring in another employee to handle the rest of the questions.
Never lie to a customer
The worst thing you can do is outright lie to a customer. Sooner or later, that customer is going to find out. He or she will be smart enough to realize that you told them something to save your ego and sent them off on their merry way. This can damage relationships between a customer and a business – you leaving them with such a negative impression as a representative of a company can give them an unfavorable opinion of the company as a whole.
A customer would much rather hear “let me check on that for you” or “I want to do a little more research on that for you” than something you’ve made up on the spot. The desire to get your facts straight before you help them doesn’t make you appear incompetent – it shows them that you care. This is the exact opposite of the impression that lying would give. The customer would rather wait for the truth than feel immediately and temporarily pacified by a misleading statement.
Know when to redirect the topic
There are two different ways to redirect when you’re not sure how to properly help a customer. One is to move them on by redirecting them to a different issue, and the other is to redirect them to another employee. If you can, you should first attempt to redirect them to a different issue. If the questions they’re asking aren’t necessarily relevant to the help they need, you shouldn’t feel ashamed that you aren’t sure how to answer them.
If the nature of the questions pertains to the customer getting off track, it’s good policy to gently redirect them back to the topic at hand. This comes with two benefits. The first one is that you aren’t put into an awkward situation, and the other is that you’re able to effectively serve a customer by directly focusing on their needs.
Don’t redirect the customer unless you have to
Customers don’t like being passed off onto someone else. They take comfort in knowing that if they approach an employee with their questions and concerns that everything will be resolved immediately. Being passed from person to person creates frustration for the customer who merely wanted a little help.
If you can discretely look up the answers you need quickly for the customer, you can recover from an awkward situation. If your company has a manual, handbook, or online database that you can use for answers as you’re speaking with a customer, use it. If you don’t have that resource, it might be worthwhile asking management to hire someone to create it. Everyone will be able to make use of it, and it may improve overall customer satisfaction to have everything compiled and easily accessible. Do it under the guise of providing more value, and be honest about the learning process.
Many times, a customer would rather hear that you’re going above and beyond to provide them with the service they deserve. They’d rather hear that you want to take your time to research the proper answer to a complicated question than send them off to someone else or give up on them. Your effort shows you value that customer.
If you do redirect, redirect properly
Sometimes, you won’t know the answers or you won’t have the authority to do something. You might not be able to easily access what you need in order to help the customer. When all options fail, redirect the customer sooner rather than later. Try not to send them on a wild goose chase or let them feel like they’re wasting time with you. If after a minute or two you’re still unsure, you have a duty to put them directly in contact with someone who will be sure.
Try not to transfer phone calls or leave someone on hold for a long period of time. If you can, run and get someone you know for sure will be able to help. We often avoid bringing problems to our bosses, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. Even if this person is a busy member of upper management, they would likely prefer that you focused on serving the customer quickly rather than bumbling around attempting to figure things out on your own. It’s worthwhile to be sure you only need to redirect them once.
Even if customers can sometimes have unrealistic standards, it’s important to remember that you can’t know absolutely everything. You’re not a subpar employee if you don’t know every last minuscule detail about a specific thing. It’s all in the grace and ease with which you handle a situation that defines your worth as an employee.
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