On Customer Service Management – Is it cool to be sassy

On Customer Service Management – Is it cool to be sassy

We see more and more examples of this today–instances where Brands exhibit a fair amount of sass towards others (usually competitors) on social media. The results are more often than not, hilarious and awe-inspiring, even more so when the brands begin a reply war against each other. It’s great, entertaining content where hopefully no one really gets hurt (maybe just the social media team’s pride).

But what happens if the brand exhibits the same amount of sass towards a customer? 

Social media today is loaded with memes–content meant to incite humor. And some of the content we see that is being done by brands and pages on Facebook seem to revolve around how they interact with their customers. 

Admittedly–especially if the customer is of a special breed–handling these cases takes a certain kind of inhuman patience. It still amazes me to this day that call center agents for example can continue to act cool under fire by an irate customer. 

But there are cases online where the brand themselves can’t seem to control the urge to exhibit sass and unleash hell upon unruly, belligerent, and otherwise overly entitled customers. 

Sure it’s great content (so long as you don’t shame said customer by revealing their real identity–that’s a no no) but how far can one go before it becomes, for lack of a better word, just plain trolling?

Source: Facebook

In customer service or any service industry for that matter, it always helps to put oneself in the other person’s shoes. What happened? Why is he complaining? What is he really asking for? What can we do to help? Essential questions to really get to the bottom of the customer’s initial intent.

Empathy goes a long way, and in most cases wins you a more placated and level-headed customer.

Next, Handle With Care

Once you’ve managed to get all of that information, go about discussing the issue with the customer with a calm and reassuring tone. Be as forthright as possible while avoiding sounding scripted, patronizing or worse, condescending. 

As you may surmise, words like ‘Sir, please calm down’ don’t have the desired effect depending on the level of anxiety customer already has, so instead start with a quick acknowledgement of customer’s problem and then focus on the next step directly. ‘Sir thank you for your clarification, I understand now what your issue is, how can I help?’

Direct, concise, professional. Might not be your brand tone, but to a customer on the brink of losing it, he won’t care. 

So when is it cool to be sassy?

More often than not you get a customer that, regardless of how well you treat them or respond to their needs, they still go off in an unreasonable manner. There are even times that a person will throw his entitlement your way and claim to be a ‘paying customer’ i.e. ‘do you know how much I’ve spent on you already? More than you make in a year!’; loyal, ‘I’ve been using you for years! I deserve more!’; capitalist, ‘I would never get this kind of treatment from the same business across the street’, and so on.  

While a reply like ‘Sir we truly appreciate all the business you have brought our way, but I cannot help you if you continue to be that way’ is not sassy, but definitely stern, a brand that goes ‘Sir, while we truly appreciate all the business you have brought our way, your money could have been well spent on learning some manners. Now tell me how I can help’ will be in for a real chafing from the customer. 

Sure, you get the hoorahs of fellow service industry friends from all over the world, but if word gets out that you treat just on customer this way–no matter how entitled they may be–that could ruin your reputation and cause a PR crisis overnight. 

The Customer Is Always Right-ish

There’s always been two schools of thought when it comes to the old adage of ‘The Customer is Always Right’–one in total agreement, the other, obviously not. The real answer is: it isn’t always the same. 

The best way to handle any one situation is to again go back to the basic details and then address them quickly. When you approach any customer with the intent of trying to better understand their issues, you are already on the right track to addressing their problem. 

There’s this one recent case in the country where a budding coffee shop owned and operated by foreigners came under fire because of the way they treated their ‘freeloaders’. One such story that became viral on social media was of a few students who were just looking for a place to chill while having refreshments. They went in to the coffee shop and looked at the menu. Immediately, they were met with a snarky attitude by the owner slash barista who asked quite sarcastically so are you here just for the free wifi?

Insulted, the students immediately went on the defensive, saying they were still deciding where to stay that was cool and out of the heat. The barista just went on ignoring them and continued to say ok whatever. Naturally, the students felt even more unwelcome and just decided to leave, prompting the owner to add insult to injury by remarking: thanks for not wasting my time. 

Here’s the deal: the operators of the small business are fed up with all the freeloaders–folks who just hang out at their coffee shop, order the cheapest drink and use the wifi and take up an entire table the whole day. But they should have known better–they set up shop in a populated university area. Naturally there would be dozens of students passing by daily trying to save on costs and escape the heat. 

The owner however, while he was in a position to be wary of any customers dropping by, should have been more patient and taken at least a tiny extra step to understand what the kids needed. Instead of expecting the worst of the students and thereby already engaging with them sarcastically, he should have been more welcoming and appreciative. The students even said on their viral rant–we were already ready to order, but the guy’s attitude was just a huge turn off. 

Of course there are cases where the customer isn’t always in the right–and I’m sure you’ve seen one or more examples of it online–the bottomline is, to expect that ALL your customers are going to be terrible, is a sure way to set yourself up for failure from the get go. Had he not been so  hotheaded or assumed the worst of the students, he may have gotten business.

Lost in Translation

The same can be said about handling responses on social media and digital channels. More often than not, especially in developing countries like the Philippines or areas where English isn’t the natural first language like Thailand, when a customer tries to share his issue or complaint with you or your page, more often than not because of the poor command of English, it just comes off as rude or inappropriate. 

I’ve seen it  happen more than once that a website or social media page responds badly to a poorly constructed message from a returning customer, ending up losing the customer in the process and causing a bit of harm to the brand. 

Make no mistake, while English may be the natural first language for many an affluent markets in developing nations, majority of your users and fans will still most likely struggle with proper grammar and constructing sentences that make sense. 

Again, go back to the thought process behind customer service and replying–what can I do to  help? 

In summary, a lot of issues can be avoided if–even if we tackle a client who is rude, irate and entitled, we decide to listen and understand rather than be closed and respond or react. Trust me a little extra patience goes a very long way. 

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