World-Class Service: When You Don’t Know the Answer

QuestionmarkWhen I stand in front of a training class of new CSRs or sit across from a newbie in a coaching session, you can usually feel the fear and insecurity radiating off of them. It’s so thick in the air that you can cut it with a knife. Time afer time, customer service newbies tell me that their greatest fear is being on the phone and not knowing how to answer the customer’s question. You can almost hear the uncomfortable "Ummmmmmmmmmm" as their faces take on the unmistakable look of a deer in the headlights and their brains scramble for what to say.

Here’s my advice: Remember that customers don’t expect you to know all the answers as long as you give them confidence that you can get to the right answer. So, stay calm, take a deep breath, and confidently respond:

"That’s a great question!.." (You’re so smart Mr. Customer – good for you! – it’s a compliment!)

"…Can you hold for a moment?.." (Ask permission, it gives the customer a sense of control)

"…while I get the answer for you…" (You know just where to find that answer!)


"…I know just who to talk to about that…" (You’re connected, you’re networked, you know people)

Once the cusotmer says, "Sure" hit the "hold" button. Now take a deep breath and figure out where to get the answer or who to ask. Instead of sitting there saying, "ummmmmmmm" or leaving the customer in dead air cluing her in that you don’t know what the heck you’re doing – you have successfully:

  1. Complimented the customer
  2. Given the customer a sense of control
  3. Given the customer confidence you know where to find the answer
  4. Given the customer confidence you know who to talk to about the answer

Now all you have to do is find the answer, but you’ve bought yourself a few moments while the customer is listening to hold music. Hop to it!

Related Posts:
World-class Service: The Greeting
World-class Service: Managing Dead Air
World-class Service: When You Have to Call Them Back

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Flickr photo courtesy of poppycede

  3 comments for “World-Class Service: When You Don’t Know the Answer

  1. June 20, 2006 at 5:31 pm

    In a way, it’s almost refreshing when someone says, “You know, that a good question. I don’t know that. Let me put you on hold for a second and get you a better answer than that.”
    I like it when people don’t think they have to know everything. I find people who are willing to say “I don’t know”, refreshing, because they are letting their humanity show through.
    Yes, in a life or death situation I would be more than annoyed if a 911 dispatcher could not give me medical help, but in an everyday customer service situation, I like thinking I’m talking to a fallible person who doesn’t have all the answers but wants to help me as much as possible.
    When I train newbies, I always try to let them know “It’s ok not to have all the answers, but keep a balance, don’t be so human they think you know nothing.”
    Its hard to walk the line between human and inefficient, but its worth attempting.
    Good post BTW.

  2. June 20, 2006 at 8:34 pm

    Thanks AC. I was writing from a purely customer service angle but you aptly brought the human element into the equation. Well done. You’re right, it’s not about being a robotic braniac – it’s about being a reasonable human being who has the skills to respond appropriately.
    Best wishes walking the fine line (hint: don’t look down).

  3. June 20, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    Tom, I preach to all of my teammates, whether they are speaking to customers or other employees, to use what my old boss used to call the “7 most important words” -“I don’t know, but I’ll find out”. AC is so right about the humanity of just simply uttering those 7 words, plus the optimism that the answer is just around the corner. Kind of a real “half-fullism”!

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