Win the Argument, Lose the Customer

May 30, 2013

Seth Godin had a great post recently entitled On teaching people a lesson. In Godin’s words:

“You’re actually not teaching them a lesson, because the people who most need to learn a lesson haven’t, and won’t. What you’re actually doing is diverting yourself from your path as well as ruining your day in a quixotic quest for fairness, fairness you’re unlikely to find.”

Seth Godin

Much the same can be said for customer service. For too many, the object is to win the argument, to prove that they were right above all else. Pride is allowed to overtake service; defensiveness rides roughshod over accommodation.

Win the Argument Lose the Customer

In the case of customer service, winning almost always equates to losing. Win the argument, lose the customer is a popular saying for a reason.

And even the fact that the issue is framed as an “argument” says a lot about how many people approach customer dissatisfaction.

“But what if I am right,” people say.

My answer: So what.

In how many cases does that really matter? As Godin points out, you are most likely not “teaching” anyone a lesson; you are only diverting precious energy to satisfy some internal desire to “win.”

The Exceptions

Before I go into any call with an upset customer, I want to know the facts. I want to know what the client says we did or did not do — and if that is true. However, I collect that information to understand the parameters of the situation — oftentimes, I will not use the information at all, because being right is not my objective.

When I do use the information to respond to a customer, it is under very specific circumstances.

1) If the client is in a state of mind where the misperception of our actions (or lack of actions) is such a point of fixation that progress seems impossible — when other less confrontational techniques have failed — sometimes it is necessary to address the facts head on to enable forward progress to be achieved.

2) If I think establishing our competence is important to long term service, I will sometimes “correct” the facts. However, I do so in a way that is nonconfrontational and by sandwiching it between other discussion points. (Warning: This move does take some practice.)

The important thing to note about the above is that these are exceptions.

Never go into a client issue looking to be right. Go into a client issue looking to make it right.

As we mentioned in our post 5 Small Business Lessons from the Kitchen Nightmares Meltdown, customers are not the enemy. And if customers are not the enemy then our objective should not be to defeat them.

In customer service, how can I make this right is one of the most important questions you can ever ask.

2 thoughts on “Win the Argument, Lose the Customer”

  1. You’re spot on, Adam, though I think this one is easier said than done. Customer service is one of the few situations where we’re expected to avoid correcting someone who is obviously wrong and perhaps even insulting. For many of us, it’s instinctive to argue, no matter how unproductive that may be.

    I like your advice to focus on making it right instead of trying to be right. It diverts us away from confrontation and helps us focus on partnering with our customers so they can get an acceptable result.

    1. Yeah, it’s easy to give good advice , right? 🙂

      You make a great point Jeff — it really is a fairly unique circumstance that puts us in a position of not correcting someone who is clearly wrong. That’s why not everyone is good at customer service.

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