Create a Better Customer Service by Offering Alternative Solutions

John Krautzel
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Approaching customer service as a "yes" or "no" situation drives away people who look to your company for fair solutions. Customers know nothing about the politics behind your business policies, so bad customer service experiences send one message — the company doesn't care about solving problems. Instead of abandoning customers when you can't provide the ideal answer, look for alternative ways to deliver a satisfying experience.

Encourage Staff to Be Problem Solvers

Picture yourself in the customer's shoes. You buy products to solve a problem or fulfill a desire. Based on your research and personal needs, you form expectations about how the product should perform. You made an investment in the product, so you expect the company to work toward a compromise if the product falls short. Now, imagine contacting customer service and getting the dismissive reply, "Sorry, there's nothing we can do."

Too often, customer service staff default to saying "no" because it's an easy answer that removes the burden of accountability. To achieve better results, companies must train staff to focus on what they can do, not what they can't do. By understanding the source of a problem, service reps can come up with solutions that satisfy a customer's key priorities.

Find Out What Matters to Customers

Leading with a negative response increases customer frustration, while offering value improves customer satisfaction. If you can't deliver the solution the customer is looking for, figure out how to provide the next best option. Ask questions to find out why customers are upset, and offer choices that let customers decide what should be prioritized.
In many cases, apologizing or offering a one-size-fits-all solution escalates the situation because it fails to address the customer's core problem. Let's say a customer orders a product that arrives damaged. A refund isn't a satisfying solution if the product is a birthday gift and on-time delivery is the customer's top priority. On the other hand, offering a replacement product with a faster shipping option at no extra charge satisfies the customer's main concerns.

Avoid Sending Customers Away

Customers know businesses run on hierarchies and customer service staff have limited authority to go off book. But when customers seek help from human support teams, they expect compassion and consideration. Every bad encounter increases negative bias toward your company. Customers start expecting your customer service team to be unhelpful, and they're more likely to publicly voice frustrations without seeking a resolution.
To prevent this domino effect, never send customers away without a breakdown of your next steps. If a problem is time-consuming to solve or requires authorization from multiple managers, explain that waiting a little longer may yield better results. Be transparent about what you can do right now, and offer a precise timeline when you can get back to customers with an update.

The goal of customer service is to build relationships, motivating customers to trust the company when they encounter issues in the future. Train service reps to put customer satisfaction first, so they develop the instinct to come up with alternative solutions before saying "no."

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at


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