You’re Not Making Sense to Me

For the daily prompt:  Surface

Children.  They’re among some of most miraculous creations on the planet, wouldn’t you agree? Go with me for a moment.  There’s this chance encounter between 2 single-celled organisms that, when they meet, join together.  Then this perfect symphony of division, multiplication, and growth results in the creation of a brain, a heart, eyes, arms, legs…you know the rest.  And 9 to 10 months later, out comes this brand new human, completely void of any knowledge of what they just came into or where they came from. A year or two passes and they start to form communication skills, you know, beyond the requisite screaming and crying. You, of course being the diligent first-time parent, do your absolute best to decipher everything they’re saying. Unfortunately, all you can muster is an uncomfortable but cheery uplifting smile as you act on your assumption of what your little one needed.

Could you say that again please?

It is most likely the worst feeling in the world to try to satisfy a baby that seems to be inconsolable just because you have no idea what he or she wants.  Luckily, they get older and can start to verbalize their needs more clearly.  Problem solved right?  Not necessarily.

Did you ever have a customer that was asking for something that you just couldn’t understand?  Maybe they weren’t speaking clearly or maybe they were asking something that requires a level of expertise that you do not possess.  Here’s the mistake that a lot of customer service representative make.  They try to resolve a problem before understanding what it is that the customer needs.


I get it.  A customer calls in expecting help.  You’re the person providing that help.  You cannot appear to have no knowledge of what is being asked.  After all, you’re supposed to be the subject matter expert.  You’re supposed to have all of the necessary information available to assist, no matter what the question or situation.  Yes, and little green fairies and purple unicorns live in your world as well, correct?

The truth is that there is not a single person on Earth that knows everything about anything.  There are some who may have more knowledge in certain areas but there will always be someone who will know just a little bit more.  This is good news!  It means that you now have license to manage expectations.  What do I mean?

I used to sit on a support desk that was responsible for answering questions about how a specific mechanical device worked in a lab environment.  One day, I received a question about the device that went beyond my scope of knowledge.  I could have pretended that I knew the answer, but instead I informed the customer of my limitations and offered to escalate their issue to a higher level of support, which translated into forwarding the call to someone who had been with the company longer than me.  I managed the customer’s expectation by letting them know what level of support they could expect from me, instead of allowing them to force me into an answer that may have been incorrect.

Dig Deeper

While managing expectations is a valid strategy, you need to be concerned with how it is done.  You definitely do not want to sound dismissive in your approach.  One of my co-workers in a former position was infamous for telling customers that they’re not making any sense.  He did not last very long in the position.  No one wants to be made to feel like they’re not being understood.  Learn how to finesse a situation so that your customer walks away feeling like they wouldn’t mind another interaction with you in the future.

Instead of saying “You’re not making any sense to me”, you might want to try “I’m having some difficulty understanding.  Can I offer to escalate to a higher level of support?”  This works, and it takes you off the hook.  Often, when you reach below the surface of what a customer is saying you kill a few birds with one stone.  Not only are you able to redirect to another representative, but you show that you have some interest in ensuring that they get an answer to their question.  You also give yourself enough information to know exactly where to escalate.

And with that

Customer service is a tough profession, but not an impossible one.  All anyone ever wants is the same treatment that you would expect if you had the same question or issue.  If we learn empathy and are not afraid to get a clear understanding of a problem by digging below the surface of an issue, it can make the job of supporting someone much easier.



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