How to Help When You Can’t Give Someone What They Want

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A close friend of mine works at a boutique app development company, and he told me the other day about a French woman who called and was having some difficulty with an app they had designed for a client. Speaking in impeccable English, though more slowly than a native speaker, she began describing every detail that led up to receiving an error. Some of the information was useful, but much was not related to the issue. My friend listened patiently, but it was clear within a few minutes that the client he developed the app for was the only one with the power to fix it.

What was he to do? It felt rude to interrupt, or tell her that he didn’t need to know all of the information she was taking such great pains to describe. He genuinely wanted to help her, but his hands were tied; she had to contact the company who commissioned the app and go through the whole story again. He told me, “I really wanted to tell her I sympathized and be able to offer her a credit for her trouble — or even just give her a couple bucks of my own money!”

It can be frustrating when you don’t have all the tools to solve someone’s problem. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help!

  • Step 1: Empathize. My friend was on the right track; it’s always nice to hear someone’s on your side! Remember to frame things positively; rather than commiserating, try saying, “That does sound frustrating; I would feel the same way!”
  • Step 2: Guide them. It’s counterintuitive, but sometimes interrupting is helping! Repeating the same information to multiple people is a common complaint among customers. Anyone who’s ever called their cable company can attest to that. Listen for a pause and interject, “I hate to interrupt, but I think I know what the problem is. ABC Company would actually be able to help you with this,” or “I’m sorry for the interruption! John in Support would be the best person to speak with about this type of error.”
  • Step 3: Offer assistance. Ok, so yo might not be able to give them a credit or fix the problem. But there is always something you can offer. Perhaps it’s just looking up the phone number to the company that can help. Maybe it’s offerring to jump on a conference call to cut through the technical jargon, or sending an email with a succinct description of the issue that they can read to the customer support tech. Nine times out of ten, they’ll decline, but anything that shows you want to help is a huge comfort. Even a simple, “If you have any more questions or there’s anything more I can do to help, please let me know!” will help!

Your customers are people, too. Focus on connecting with your caller on a personal level and treating them how you’d like to be treated, and you’ll both feel better!

Photo via Flickr user James Cridland

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