Sometimes we can’t fix a customer complaint. Tactical empathy helps you to focus on the customer instead of your short comings. To uncover the impact for the customer. And to open up alternate solution spaces.
I attend a regular Zoom call for a personal membership group. The membership is not “work” related. Yet, people related. So often there are lessons to take back to how we interact with our own customers in our businesses. I hope that this lesson resonates for you too.
How the discussion went off the rails…
The Zoom call is open for an informal chat before the formal meeting kicks off. Recently in this window, one of the members raised a complaint.
She thought that the organizers appeared tone deaf by their lack of response to a post in the member’s FB group. Someone had complained about something the membership was failing at – fewer and farther away in-person meeting spaces. There were a ton of comments from other members on the post. But no response from the organizers.
So, the member raised it in our smaller cohort call, as a missed opportunity by the organizers to address it.
One of the leaders went straight into overexplain mode. Believing she was helping by giving an insider view of things.
The pandemic lockdowns changed the format of meetings from in person to zoom calls. Though some things are opening up again, not all the spaces are returning. For our cohort specifically, they let go of the lease of the old meeting space. The leader is struggling to find a new leased space. Some aren’t appropriate. One lease almost agreed fell through in negotiations. As well, she is juggling with having limited staff and dealing with increased health protocols….
You could hear her frustration.
I stepped in and shut it down. I’m not proud of that. It’s me in what I call drive mode, rather than empathetic coaching mode. My advice monster shinning through. Something learned from handling high level escalations where it was my role to get everyone focused and on point.
The two of them had been talking at cross purposes and not listening to each other. So I stepped in to stop it.
So, my advice monster stepped in…
Hopefully handled more tactfully, then this sounds…
I pointed out to the leader that her response was coming across, well, tone deaf. Instead of helping, it reinforced the complaint.
I said, I knew it was coming from a place of frustration with not being able to solve the problem right now. Still, it sounded defensive. It was a little too much internal information. Even if it couldn’t be solved here and now, the whole story of everything she was attempting to do to solve it took the focus from the customers to the company. A better response is to just acknowledge the problem and be empathetic to us, the customer.
I suggested that maybe the company needs better messaging around the problem.
It stopped the over explaining. But it also ended the conversation.
With the leader acknowledging the complaint. And the member saying, they had just wanted to bring up the point.
What wasn’t said….
Not said, but thought by me in the moment. The person raising the complaint had a complaint of her own she didn’t speak about.
She hinted at it in some of the discussion but didn’t really explain it. I think it’s irritation that she was still paying full fees for this reduced service.
It’s easier if you don’t like to complain to highlight someone else’s issue than talk about your own. This member likes to be positive.
The shift in focus to the company’s problems meant we never got to the root of the member’s concerns.
What could have happened instead…
Afterwards, reflecting on it, I thought of the Black Swan Group’s accusation audit. It would have been a great tool to use here instead.
The accusation audit is a tool to address the negative things that the other person in a negotiation is thinking. To get them out in the open, deal with them and put them aside.
It’s often the things that are true and we can’t solve. And as a result, things lurking that will creep into the discussion if not addressed. The elephants in the room.
BSG advocate to prepare for them ahead of a negotiation. And to bring them up early.
I believe all human interaction is on some level a negotiation. I believe you can use an accusation audit for many other engagements. Discover calls. And yes, dealing with customer complaints. Though for these touchpoints, I’m more likely to have my prep at hand to deal with if I receive signals it’s a problem. Whether than bring them up at the start.
It’s a tool I use in my business. I completed a general accusation audit that I review before big meetings. I update it when things change. Because issues get resolved and new ones appear.
My preparation is a 5-column table. The issue at hand. The emotion the customer is feeling. The emotion it raises in me. Ways to counteract it. Potential strategies.
For potential strategies you use the other BSG tactical empathy skills. Labels followed by dynamic silence, to get the other side to reveal what concerns them. What and how calibrated questions to uncover hidden problems and open up solutions.
Considering the emotions in the situation let’s you consider ahead of time what your emotional reaction might be. Armed with that knowledge you can act differently, rather than react.
In this case, if the leader acknowledged ahead of time that she is frustrated and defensive. Instead of over explaining, she could have used a label. It seems like you value meeting in person. Or calibrated questions. What do you think we can do for members in the interim?
That might have led to a discussion on discounts. Or uncovered the real issue is the customer is feeling there is less value in Zoom call meetings.
Maybe I could have used some tactical empathy myself. If I still felt compelled to step in, I could have asked questions rather than gave advice. A label for the leader. It sounds like you are really frustrated you can’t find a meeting space. A calibrated question for the member. What concern does this raise for you about your membership?
The changes we make…
I got on Zoom early at the next week’s meeting. I apologized for stepping in when I did.. That it wasn’t appropriate for me to have stepped in when it wasn’t my meeting.
The leader said it was okay. It got her thinking. She thought she was helping with giving an insider view and didn’t realize it was being heard as unrelated over share. She changed how she talked about the problem of meeting spaces when it came up again in the week. It is working better.
Hmmm. Isn’t that why we do our bad habits. They work for us, at a certain level. Still, someone else might have not been so receptive to my advice and been really offended. I’m grateful the leader has the ability to grow and change. So, I’m continuing to work on new habits of tactical empathy.
I didn’t’ share the info on accusation audits. Being an advise monster twice doesn’t cancel out the first time, lol. Better to let that slide and share my thoughts with you in this post instead.
Thing is, we all had good intentions. We just muddled it up a bit in the delivery.
Does this story resonate with you? How do you address a customer complaint that you can’t fix? Have you experienced similar messy meetings? Do you think tactical empathy would help you in those situations?