Customer Service Advice: Write It Down

Writing down customer complaints can help diffuse tense situations and show customers you are actively hearing and understanding them.

Customer service: Is it over valued today or is it the true differentiator that determines where we as consumers spend our money? Many today view it as the differentiator, and they are holding retailers, vendors, hotels, equipment companies, and others accountable. One would think that providing customer service is as simple as asking the customer what they are looking for and providing it to them. But it’s not!

If you go to any search engine today and Google “customer service,” you will find thousands of ideals and philosophies about customer service. Who is the best at it, who is the worst, what determines good or bad customer service, what skills are needed to separate one business from another, and how you will know if you are the business of choice?

First Impressions

There are many different philosophies touted by many different customer service providers about customer service and what makes you stand out from your competition. Most say, in one way or another, the process starts out with how you greet potential customers when they call or visit your establishment. You are to greet them with a smile, shake their hand, have a pleasant tone of voice, look a certain way, be professional, act like hearing or seeing them just made your day, look them in the eye, and so much more.

Ascertaining Customer Needs

The next step in the process is for business establishments to find out what the customer needs or wants. There seems to be two different thought processes around how to do this: Some say that whatever the potential customer asks for, you get it for them. And if you don’t have it, you tell them you don’t have it but try to offer an alternative solution for their needs. The thought process behind this is that the customer knows what they want, and if you have it, you took care of their need, and if you didn’t have it, you still provided “value” by suggesting something else.

Others say verify or qualify the customer’s needs by asking a series of open-ended questions to ensure that you are truly helping the customer get what they need or want. And if you don’t have it, tell them you can get it for them. They feel that most customers have an idea of what they need but don’t always know exactly what they need. The thought here is that the customer either called or came to your establishment, and if you want to ensure that they call or come back again and again, then you do everything in your power to get them what they need.

Both sides agree that regardless of whether you believe the customer knows what they need, you need to know that it is important to get them what they are asking for. Again, the thought process in achieving this is a little different. One side says: Get them what they need as quickly as possible, so the customer can be on their merry way. They believe that we live in a fast-paced world today and customers don’t have time to be asked questions surrounding their needs.

The other side says: Yes, we are in a fast-paced world and to ensure that the customer really gets what they need, it is important to ask them what they need and also to ask them if there is anything else they might need. That way, when a customer calls or visits the establishment, they leave with everything they need. Asking if there is anything else they may need shows you are not just after the customer’s money. You want them leaving feeling like “We care about you.”

Closing the Deal

The last step in the process is to close the deal, and both sides seem to agree it is important you tell the customer “Thank you.” However, they tend to somewhat disagree when it comes to getting the customer to commit to using your services. One side believes that once you go through the process, you shouldn’t be so pushy in asking the customer if they want to buy. The other side feels the customer is just waiting for you to ask and it is incumbent that you do ask for the business. They believe that the customer never would have called or come by your establishment if they didn’t have a need, even if they are just shopping around.

Anger Management

No matter which side you agree with—or even if you don’t agree and have you own thoughts on whether or not customer service is the true differentiator of where customers will spend their money—one thing is for sure: No matter what, customers still get angry with you!

If you have a customer screaming at the top of their lungs at you due to what they believe is bad customer service, I have a remedy I have used and shared with many over the years. This simple advice will bring the temperature of the conversation down to a manageable level: “Write it down.” People want to be heard and they want to be understood. That’s it. If you show them you are listening and understanding, then, more often than not, they will calm down and allow you to have a civil conversation about their problem.

Here is how it works:

If you don’t carry a small notepad and a pen or pencil with you, start today! (If you don’t have one with you, get one when the customer approaches you either on the phone or in person.)

Step 1: Once the customer starts on their rant, ask them politely and professionally if they can wait a quick second while you get your pen and paper. They may get a little upset, but it will be worth it. Or they may give you a strange look and ask why you need a pen and paper. Your response should be, “Sir/Ma’am, I can tell that you are upset and I want to make sure I fully take care of your needs. To do that, I need to write down your thoughts.”

Step 2: Very professionally, ask them to continue. Right about now, you may start to see a little difference in the customer’s demeanor, as they now know they have your attention and you have theirs.

Step 3: The key to ensuring that you hear and understand what they are saying is that you use reflecting/active listening skills. While they are talking, nod your head, make eye contact, and use the correct facial expressions. Only write down the important things that are being said to you, not the vulgar language or any outbursts (i.e., “You were late”; “This is not what you said” “I just bought this, and it doesn’t work”; “Your bathrooms are dirty”; “You don’t care about customers”; “I want to see your manager”; “The food is cold”; etc.).

 As you are writing these things down and you are acknowledging the customer using your active listening skills, the customer will start to calm down a little because they realize you are listening to them. Make sure you get everything!

Step 4: When they stop, ask, “Is there anything else?” You might ask why, because this may cause them to start all over again or add more fuel to the fire; however, this is what you want. You want them to get it all out because it will be difficult for you to advance the conversation if there is something else on their mind. Whatever they say, you write it down, and you then ask them again, “Is there anything else?” You continue asking that question until they say, “No.”

Step 5: Once they say “No,” then you say, “Sir/Ma’am, let me make sure I understand what you just said…” Then you start back at the top of your list. Either repeat or paraphrase what they told you. Let them know each item on the list you can address personally and immediately. For those you can’t, tell them how you plan on addressing it. The idea here is to let them know you understand where they are coming from.

That’s it. They may still be upset at you, but you have turned the situation around to a much more manageable one. Get yourself a pen and paper and remember that people want to be heard and understood. If you show them you are doing that, they will believe you care about their needs.

Brad Mason is Training account manager at Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, OH-based company offering sales and customer service training, marketing, and mystery shopping services for a variety of service-based industries. For more information, call 800.398.0518 or visit You also can connect with Signature on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook.


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