After waiting an hour for my food to be delivered to my hotel room—late by 30 minutes according to the delivery time promised in their email confirmation—I called the company. Then I had to wait another 30 minutes just to talk to a customer service representative. Clearly they did NOT provide great customer service.
This is when things went from bad to much, much, worse. The customer service representative told me he was sorry but that he couldn't do anything except refund my money. When I expressed my frustration, he responded (seemingly from a customer service script on how to sound empathetic with an upset customer), "I understand."
The problem was––he didn't. If he truly understood, he would have expressed true empathy for a very hungry and upset customer in a strange city.
Simply parroting "I'm sorry" and "I understand" over and over only added to my frustration. It strikes of "EMPTYthy" –– words without meaning or genuine concern. I'm sure this company trained its people to "sound" like they care, but it's not the same thing as actually caring and it just doesn't ever work.
So, what does work? Empathy over an "i'm sorry" apology would sound like this: "Wow! We sure messed up. That's terrible. You must be so hungry. Here is what we are going to do to resolve this now."
If you want a more effective way to deal with upset customers try turning over a new "LEAF".
Listen: Use active listening techniques. Acknowledge by repeating or paraphrasing to check for understanding. Let the customer finish telling their story to you. Even if you know you can fix their problem based on what you've heard early in the conversation, don't. If interrupted, the customer will just keep repeating themselves until they feel heard.
Empathy: Stop using meaningless phrases such as "I understand." Instead, use language that shows you "get it". "That's terrible," "How frustrating," "You must be besides yourself" are phrases that let your customer know you truly understand how they feel.
Act: Take ownership of the problem and fix it as soon as you can. Get creative with your solution. And if you can't fix it immediately, show that you are urgently trying to.
Follow up: Check in with the customer and make sure that your solution satisfied them.
Try to provide great customer service by using LEAF with your next unhappy customer—and please, no more EMPTYthy.