The Key to Great Customer Service is Making Exceptions

Lauren Krause
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Many consumers have experienced the frustration of working with a customer service agent who refused to budge in seemingly flexible situations. In most cases, the fault lies not with the agent but with rigid corporate policy — and the consequences for breaking it. By empowering your employees to make an exception when the situation warrants it, you can reduce irritation and make customers feel special.

The rules that govern customer service departments are usually in place for a reason. Regardless of the sensible justification, every rule deserves an exception — particularly in service situations. When a customer is denied a satisfactory solution because of a strict company rule, he may decide to vent his irritation on the Internet or via word of mouth. In fact, many customers are eager to vent their frustrations on public platforms. Consider the telecommunications company Comcast, which experienced a public relations nightmare after a poor service call went viral on the Internet.

In most cases, arguing with a customer about a rule is not likely to result in a positive outcome. Making exceptions is a far more productive approach. When a customer understands that you are bending the rules to solve his problem, he is more likely to feel appreciated and valued, and the positive experience may prompt him to revisit your company. He may also recommend your business to friends and family members, building your reputation organically. The relative cost of making an exception is often insignificant when compared to these positive effects.

Customers are often surprised when exceptions are made. Most people call customer service departments with preconceived notions about what they can and cannot ask for. When an agent has the authority to make exceptions to company policies, he has the freedom to come up with innovative solutions that get to the heart of the customer's needs. The online retailer Zappos embraces this model of unexpected exceptions, and its service department has a staggeringly positive reputation.

Exceptions, though they may seem spontaneous , require a great deal of back-end preparation. It is a mistake to allow your customer service agents free reign over the exception-making process without proper training and awareness. Agents should understand the types of situations that warrant an exception and must learn how to provide solutions that support the company's core mission. Limits are also important. How far out of the box can agents go when making exceptions and offering innovative solutions? Are there limitations on price? Agents should understand when they can use their own judgement and when they should call in a supervisor for approval. These safeguards empower employees without putting your business at risk of losing profits.

In the age of impersonal digital communication, personal customer service makes a big impression. Exceptions can help create strong relationships and build the loyalty that sustains business during tough times.


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