Do I have your attention?

Sooner or later, anyone working in a customer-facing role will run into a complaint. After a year as Sift Media’s Community Manager, handling enquiries and feedback from members across our sites, I’ve seen a decent share of the woes that people face online. When complaints come in, some are entirely reasonable and need to be addressed whereas others are more a catharsis of potentially unrelated issues and concerns. Some are worse than others but every single message requires attention and, wherever possible, a response to show that there’s a person on the other side of the contact form who can help.

Prioritising and handling the more heated messages can be a real challenge. When someone feels they’ve been wronged or inconvenienced, emotions are likely to run high and it’s the job of people like me to improve the balance of the conversation and find a solution. To manage this effectively, there are a few handy tools at a CM’s disposal that are worth sharing:

Toughen up – empathy is essential when trying to help anyone who’s taken the time to communicate their problem but taking too much to heart can slow things down and derail your own work. There’s a big difference between understanding where someone is coming from and taking it personally. 

Get to the point – unless you have to go into great detail to explain a technical process, your reply should just be a clear and concise explanation. Moving towards resolution as quickly as possible is key and generally doesn’t require going into lengthy detail.

Don’t shut downThe Next Web recently reported on an interesting quirk in Apple’s customer service policy. Users who swear when being directed through their automated call service are immediately connected to a real person who can make sure they get through ASAP. This really shows how an angry tirade can be turned around as soon as the person on the line realises that they’re talking to someone who’s there to help. Don’t write off an initial angry email or call just because someone needs a moment to vent.

Give them space – while it’s important to make sure you’re open and show you’re listening to what someone has to say, a bit of space between replies can be a big help if a user is gearing up for an argument. Don’t ignore anyone’s messages but also don’t be afraid to put a pin in an email chain that threatens to blow up and come back to it fresh a little later.

Of course, every user, customer and client is going to be different and it takes a bit of mind reading to identify the best possible approach. In the event that communication does break down, however, it’s important to remember that you’re both seeking the same goal – to resolve the issue and allow everyone to move on and have a better experience.


Henry Osadzinski Sift Media Monday 26 November 2012