Customer service psychology 101
Updated: Jan 6
Let’s be honest, people are complicated and simply trying to understand them can be a real challenge. When we are struggling to effectively cope with life issues, we often turn to external sources for help, be it a friend, family member or a psychologist. Similarly, your customers will seek your all-star support agents and informative knowledge base to solve their problems. Just like a psychologist, you must identify the issues, read the customer’s emotions and offer a solution to make things better. The good news is, you don’t a need Ph.D. in psychology or even a super comfy couch to save the day.
If you are looking to offer the ultimate customer service experience you must understand the ins and outs of the consumer psyche. From building strong relationships with your patrons to making a memorable first impression, you can’t afford to miss these useful tips.
Back to basics
Those of us who were paying attention in our Psychology 101 class will probably remember Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of human needs (and no, chocolate is still not one of them). At the very foundation lay primary survival necessities, such as the ability to breath, eat and sleep. Once these are met, we seek emotional needs, like a feeling of value, love and belonging. Finally, at the top of the pyramid is what Maslow termed self-actualization, when all our physical and psychological necessities are fulfilled and we can achieve true happiness and success in life.
So how does this make you better connect and truly understand your customers?
When you understand your client’s vital needs, you are better prepared to provide them with the best possible experience. In fact, research shows that 86% of customers are willing to pay more for a good experience, which is why it is essential that you offer only the best.
With this goal in mind, start building a game plan. Let’s take a deeper look at three criteria inspired by Maslow’s pyramid of needs: “The customer service edition.”
Meet expectations: Let’s start at the very beginning. At the base of the pyramid you need to ensure customer satisfaction. Get started by training your team properly and setting up an easy-to-use help desk software that enables you to build a knowledge base and use essential tools such as a ticketing system so your team can perform at their best level. This is your first step towards building a strong relationship with your client base. Then, once you have mastered the basics, it is time to take it to the next level.
Create happy customers: Much like in Maslow's pyramid, you will need to build on the foundation in order to create a truly exceptional customer service experience. If you want to stand out from the pack, you need to get proactive. When interacting with customers, you need to know the right questions to ask in order to get to the heart of the issue. Think of yourself as a detective attempting to decipher a customer’s complex questions. While some customers will be very direct and to the point, others will be less clear. Much like a detective, a good support agent must be on the lookout for helpful clues and information. Start by reading their comments in their entirety and looking for pieces of information and context. This way customers won’t feel like a broken record repeating the same information in a loop. Avoid using automated answers as these lack both personality and individuality. Instead, use saved replies as a template to craft a personalized response. Refer back to details the client provided in their ticket and ask follow-up questions based on the information there. This ensures that your customers will feel valued and respected. Every detail matters, from the way you answer questions to your word choice and tone of voice proves you are with them from beginning to end.
Provide the wow factor: Give your clients a truly incredible experience that will leave them singing praises to their friends. To achieve this top tier, you need to go the extra mile to anticipate customers needs and make sure you are ready to meet them. Building a support team of knowledgeable, professional (yet personal) and confident agents for handling interactions will go a long way when it comes to retaining customer loyalty. Research shows that customers tend to prefer self-service technology over interacting with support agents. Simply put, they don’t want to contact the company multiple times and explain their issue repeatedly. Searching and finding the answers on their own through a knowledge base empowers your customer. When they are able to resolve issues individually, they will not only get their answers more quickly, but also comprehend valuable information at their own pace. As an added bonus, they will feel more faithful and connected to your brand. The benefits speak for themselves. Anticipate how your customers will try to reach out to you. Whether they help themselves through an informative help center or by reaching out through social media channels, you need to be easily discoverable on the Web. One way to do so is through search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. For example, doing keyword research and utilizing the best findings throughout your help center descriptions and titles. This will ensure that when customers are searching for help, the answers from your website will be easily accessible.
Emotions rule the game
As humans, our emotions influence how we make decisions. A frustrated customer may feel require extra guidance in certain situations (and hand-holding too). If you come across as confident, calm and sympathetic, they will mirror your attitude and respond more rationally. Exuding a positive aura is not only good for your customers, it will a have significant impact on you too. To make sure you can handle any situations like a pro, we've rounded up three surefire ways for dealing with customers and all of their (crazy) emotions:
Don’t let the situation get out of hand. When we’re upset or scared, our emotions tend to get the best of us. You are going to want need to have a well-structured game plan and workflow for handling sensitive cases. For example, moving a public billing complaint on social media to a private chat to avoid bringing negative attention to your brand. Having established protocols for how to deal with different situations ensures that everyone on your team is united (and feels confident) regardless of the circumstances.
Keep cool and stay true to your brand. Stress affects our emotional intelligence and causes us to make careless mistakes. Stick to the script (but not too literally), make sure your team knows who to consult when necessary, and most importantly, never ever respond in an angry or inappropriate manner. Your brand reputation is one if it’s most valuable assets and you must always come across as a professional.
Empathy, empathy, empathy. It may sound repetitive but that is only because it is incredibly important. Showing empathy, understanding, and apologizing (when needed) are vital skills for any customer support agent. Turn off your personal feelings and remember that it is all about your customer and their experience. Don’t rely on cliche responses. Get personal with your customer service phrases to show that you truly understand their perspective and needs.
The power of the positive image (the Halo Effect)
We have all heard the phrase “make a good first impression.” This kindergarten rule comes in handy when working with customers too. The Halo Effect is a well-established psychological phenomenon which describes how we form impressions of others through mental shortcuts. In a nutshell, our overall perception of a person influences how we feel about their character.
This is where your brand reputation comes into play. If you create a name for yourself for providing high-quality support, future customers who request support will be more inclined to assume your team is trying to be helpful. In contrast, if your brand is seen as unresponsive and inefficient then clients may start to assume you will be unwilling to assist them even if you are providing top quality service. This also applies to how you respond to support requests. If you open with a generic robotic reply, customers will decide you just don’t care even if your support agents ultimately do provide helpful solutions to their issues. Much like in a “choose your own adventure” book, the choices you make during your first interaction will set the tone not only for the rest of the conversation, but for future conversations.
We often make the mistake of thinking it is all about finding a “fix” for the issue. Actually, it’s all about the attitude you emit. Don’t get us wrong, you should be providing helpful solutions, but even the best answer is worthless if it is not presented in the right way. For example, if you receive a complaint on your social media channel, how do you approach it? Is your brand playful and witty, or more professional and corporate? Social media platforms - such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter - continue to become a popular place for brands as it enables them to interact with users in a more genuine manner. This means that every support case you handle on social media is actually a marketing opportunity and you better bring your A game.
Start by finding a “voice” for your business. Think about a graphic designer, they must choose colors and imagery that is “on brand” to embody the overall perception. The same applies to how you respond to questions, by doing so in a manner that reflects your company’s values and personality. Simply solving the problem is a thing of the past. Incorporate social media and marketing best practices into your customer support strategy. Much like how a collection of varied instruments and tones come together to craft a perfect melody, only when these skill sets work in unison, will you be able to create a truly phenomenal experience for your clients.
Finding your inner customer
As Atticus Finch said in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.... Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Understanding your customers’ perspective is key to getting down to the core of their experience. Reality is almost not important. Remember the phrase “the customer is always right”? While this saying may seem to lack depth, in reality, it is a golden rule to ensure customer satisfaction. This is not because they can never be mistaken, but because their perception of the facts serve as a guide to how you should approach the situation. Let’s take a classic example: A customer wants a refund on an item that is non-refundable based on your clearly stated terms of service. Perhaps they are in the wrong, but, that is not how they see it - and their narrative must be important to you. The answer is not to provide that customer the refund simply because they are upset. Rather, you need to show them that you do relate to their viewpoint and listen to their concerns.
It is easy to say “We sympathize with you,” but in order to truly deliver what your client needs, you will need to get personal by tapping into their raw emotion. Use phrases like “I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes” or “I understand where you are coming from.” Put yourself on the receiving end of the conversation: if you would not be satisfied with the response you are giving your customer why should they? Providing the perfect solution and making every client happy is impossible. Yet by acknowledging the core pain points, you’ll be able to guide more conversations in the right direction.
Got “trust” issues?
Have you ever seen a romantic comedy where one character has “trust issues”? Usually, these films end with the character overcoming their internal barriers and falling in love. One of the reasons these plotlines are so popular is because they are so relatable.
Your relationship may not be a romantic one, but establishing a foundation of trust with your customers is just as important as the trusting bond created with a significant other. Trust is the reason your customers are willing to give you their hard-earned money. It is the reason they keep coming back.
Would you be willing to do business with a company if you didn’t have faith in them? Of course not. That is why ensuring your brand is recognized as trustworthy and authentic is vital. Additionally, the experience your customers receive from your support team will heavily influence the way your clients judge you. While it is very difficult to create trust, it is very easy to destroy it. To create a genuine relationship with them, you will need to keep these basic tips in mind:
Deliver on promises. If you say you will do something, you need to stick to that commitment. For example, if you say you will deliver an item within a certain time frame, make sure it arrives on time. If you promised an update about a product or ongoing issue, make sure to set a reminder. For example, you can send a link to a Known Issue article, to make sure they are notified when the issue is resolved. If you don’t, you risk being perceived as disingenuous - and there is nothing worse than a company who doesn’t keep their word.
Be consistent. Establishing a consistent standard for dealing with customers is a must for creating a foundation of trust among your community. If the foundation is not solid, then everything you build on it is vulnerable too. Your customer needs to know they can rely on you. Every. Single. Time. This can be applied to your brand image and values as well. You need to present a clear and reliable image so that customers know what to expect and will be left without any doubts that they made the right choice in doing business with you.
Be relatable. Formal language and corporate jargon practically belong in the era of dinosaurs in comparison to brand personalities of today. We are more likely to have faith in people we can connect with. Your customers feel the same way about you. Businesses who come across as overly stiff-necked, and rigid are less appealing than those that which exude personality, flexibility and a genuine human connection. If your brand comes across as genuine, and personable, clients (both potential and existing) will choose to give you their business and loyalty to your company.
It’s (never) too late to apologize
Nobody is perfect and neither is your business. Sometimes things go wrong. When and if a mistake has been made, an apology can go a long way towards improving a bad customer experience - even if you are unable to give them what they want. In fact, studies have found that an apology not only creates customer satisfaction, but can also be more effective than financial compensation. At the same time, it is important to remember not to over-apologize: this may come across as patronizing and insincere. When you use apologies appropriately, you show customers that you are a genuine, reputable and honest brand which they can trust and believe in.
Mastering the art of a well crafted apology is no easy feat. When done right, an apology can rebuild a brand’s reputation. On the flip side, a poor apology can seem disingenuous and inconsiderate at best. At worst, it can result in a PR nightmare - and you don’t need a fortune-teller to tell you that’s bad news. The first step to creating a quality apology is to acknowledge your mistake and admit your wrongdoing. Next, recognize the hurt party and ask for forgiveness. Last (but certainly not least), put your words into action by outlining action items to make these changes in the future. If you genuinely want to avoid making the same mistakes time and time again, you need to take a deep look at the issue and commit to a plan to ensure the same error will not be repeated.
A great example of a successful company apology is Airbnb. In 2015, they came under fire for alleged racial profiling and discrimination on their site. CEO and Co-Founder Brian Chesky sent an email to all of their entire client base in which he not only recognized and apologized for the issue, but outlined actions the company would take to change for the better. Since then the brand has been true to their word, introducing new company policies and even choosing to feature their company’s value for inclusion in their 2017 Super Bowl Ad. Armed with a well-constructed apology, you have the ability to transform a potential PR disaster into a marketing win. Just don’t forget, with great power comes great responsibility.
Ready to put these tips into action? Get started with the best customer support software.