I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed on my cab ride to work this morning (yes, I know I could’ve caught up on some reading or a favourite podcast) when, in the middle of all the memes and all the quotes added to unrelated pictures, I found a shiny new piece of wisdom. A terribly tiny tale that said something along the lines of, “It wasn’t the fights that ruined it, it was the silence.”
And cheesy though that was, I thought, yeah. You get two people talking, and they’re bound to reach a point in conversation when they disagree. Interpersonal relationships and social interactions of any kind are bound to be strife with disagreements.
But do disagreements really need to mean conflict? Can disagreements not simply mean differences?
We see disagreements cross over into conflict everyday in support. My great uncle Bob, for example, wasn’t happy at all about the way his mobile network provider’s customer care agent had spoken to him. “I contact support to get my questions answered, not to feel like an idiot for having them.” he said. The support agent who spoke to him, on the other hand, might believe that support means providing answers that are as clear as possible, even if that means using technical terms. In essence, this is a simple difference between the two parties. And yet, words were exchanged, frustrations rose, and people were left disgruntled.
What is that point at which difference crosses over into conflict? How can we stop it, and turn it around into compromise and cooperation?
I think the answer lies in what happens in the time it takes to get from difference to conflict; in communication. Uncle Bob simply wanted a solution to his problem, and wouldn’t mind a friendly voice on the other end. The agent simply wanted to resolve his customer’s issue and be better at his job. These two people had converging goals, but ended up not achieving either.
People will always have different notions of everything under the sun, but how can we take away the power of differences in interfering with our ends, especially in the world of business?
Make no assumptions
Assuming what the other party wants out of the interaction is the first mistake that sends the dominos cascading. If the support agent hadn’t assumed that the best thing for Uncle Bob was an information dump, their conversation might have gone better. If Uncle Bob hadn’t assumed that the support agent wanted to be condescending, he might have requested him to leave the technical jargon out of the conversation. Prior information about the customer can also lead to assumptions about them and what they expect for support – because everyone knows a customer who’s eighty years old would need things to be spelled out for him, right? The first step in ensuring good communication is cutting out the assumptions.
Aim to understand, not solve
With no assumptions being made about the customer or why they’re reaching out to you, you need to keep your eyes and ears open for cues. It’s not just about understanding and solving their problem, but doing it the way they want. Really listen and trust what your instincts tell you about how your customer wants to be served. If one tone doesn’t work, switch to another.
Be aware of what you can offer
When you’re on the right track to gauging customer expectations from your interactions, it’s important that you also remember how much you can actually offer your customer. How many of those expectations can you fulfill? How much hand-holding can you do today? Know your capacities and constraints in every customer interaction.
Find an expectations middle-ground
If what you’re getting from the interaction is that your customer wants to sit down and figure out how your software can help them in their 2018 plan, and you have 200 more tickets to go through before you can call it a day, you need to convey to them politely that you won’t be able to provide them exactly the service they’re looking for that day. Make the customer see that you understand what they want from you, that you want to provide them that experience, but that you have limitations that mean you may not be able to fully satisfy their expectations. Be sure to convey that you will find another way or another time to give them exactly the service that they sought.
By today’s norms, good customer service is just solving the problem. You solve every problem that comes your way and your customer base is solid. However, great customer service – the kind that wins hearts and lives on in memory – is all about communication.