Customer Service: The Preemptive Strike softens the bad news you’re about to deliver

Customer Service--the preemptive strike--forewarn customers

Customer Service:  A preemptive soft blow can soften the harder one to come

If you’re in customer service, you know that there are some messages you have to regularly deliver that are probably going to upset people. Part of professional communication training is learning how to tell customers something they don’t want to hear without making them unnecessarily upset or angry. If you have the opportunity to provide just five minutes of on-site communication training per week to your group, quick and easy communication tactics like this one can make all the difference.

The “Preemptive Strike” is easy; all you have to to is tell the customer that you are aware that you are about to make them upset or angry. This might sound counter-intuitive, and as a communication trainer, I can tell you that every time I teach this tactic in my seminars or workshops, some people look at me as though I’m demented, but try this tactic out, and you’ll see how well it works.

The basic premise is that we all appreciate it when people treat us as if we are real, live human beings with feelings, and we appreciate it when people address those feelings. Meaning, let’s say you have been on hold with your light company for 15 minutes, and then you finally get a customer service representative with undeveloped skills who tells you something such as, “Oh, you’ll have to call this other number.” We all know what this feels like.

It adds insult to injury when people tell us things they know will upset us and pretend as if they either don’t know or don’t care that they are upsetting us. It just makes it worse.

The next time you have to deliver news that you know your customer doesn’t want to hear, try prefacing it with something such as, “I know that this is not what you want to hear, but…” or, “I know this is going to be very aggravating to hear, and I wish I had a better answer for you, but…” or, “I understand that this will be very frustrating for you, but…” and notice how it will soften the blow. Put it in whatever words sound most natural for you, but don’t just pretend that what you’re saying isn’t making the customer upset, angry, or frustrated if you know it is. Whatever comes after it will still be aggravating, but it will be less aggravating because you acknowledged the customer’s feelings first.

If you’ve delivered the same message a million times to what seems like a million of the same difficult customers, it’s easy to get a little jaded and unemotional, and start sounding like you don’t care. Simple tactics such as the preemptive strike helps show the customer that you do care.

And THAT is the real number-one job of any customer service representative–to show the customers you care about them. All the rest is secondary.


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Dan O’Connor has been leading the communication training industry for more than 20 years. Through his bestselling books, his #1 rated YouTube channel, and his online courses, Dan transforms the global conversation and the lives of countless individuals every day.

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