How to Fight Fair When Working to Get Better Support


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We all want a “wow” type experience when we engage with our vendors for support. Whether it is the clerk at the customer service desk of our local grocery store or the hotline for a service or subscription we have purchased. We want to be valued, respected, and helped as quickly and efficiently as possible. However, sometimes as we engage with customer support, we can find ourselves adding to the problem. Why? Sometimes we don’t fight fair.

Be honest. Do you fight fair? Answer this short checklist:

  • Do you bring up unrelated items from the past?
  • Do you think about what you are going to say next while they are talking? Or anticipate writing a rebuttal while waiting on their reply?
  • Do you play on their fears by threatening to demand a refund?
  • Do you withhold key information from the ticket or case?

If you said yes to any of the checklist items, chances are pretty high that you are not fighting fair.

Fighting fair is difficult!

Fighting fair is difficult for a number of reasons that range from personal to professional. Chief among the reasons we struggle with fighting fair is our own desire to get our way. The second reason we struggle to fight fair is the internal and external pressure we may be feeling to get an issue resolved. Perhaps an equally powerful third reason preventing us from committing to fighting fair is our own fears: of loss, waste, failure, extra expense, backlash, and of losing face within our organization.

As VP of Customer Experience I am neither blind to unfair fighting tactics, nor immune to them. We have all checked yes to all of the above items at times. Like others, I have struggled to fight fair and I have also found out the hard way that none of these unfair tactics really work to get a wow type customer experience. If you want a customer experience, even in a critical moment, to leave you with amazement and delight you’ll need to choke the natural urges and practice fighting fair.

Here are three tips on fighting fair that will commonly help us move closer to our goals of being delighted and receiving wow-type customer experiences. Here is what you can do to fight fair:

1. Stay focused on the current issue.

Stay in the present and only talk about things immediately related to the current issue. Unless the additional information and context is required for the current issue’s resolution, do not drag it forward into the ticket or discussion. Dredging up irrelevant information can cause frustration, confusion and delays. Consider the example of a customer who referenced four older incidents while opening a new ticket on an unrelated issue. The responding agent’s response was delayed for several minutes while looking through the aforementioned cases. In the end the new issue was completely unrelated to the aforementioned cases and had those cases not been referenced, the resolution would have taken significantly less time.

2. Have a positive attitude and expectation.

Some say that attitude is everything, but even if it isn’t everything having a positive attitude will definitely shape and improve the outcome. Assuming the best usually orients your mind to finding success. A positive attitude is not one that denies the current realities, but instead it is a frame of mind that remains open to alternatives, and has an expectation that a mutually satisfying resolution is possible. A negative attitude, in contrast, can readily block customers and organizations from being open to alternative, and often better, solutions. Having a positive mindset is a key to faster resolution.

3. Work for a win-win.

There are many definitions of a win-win. Generally speaking a win-win situation is one in which both parties work together to focus on maximizing mutual value and success. In a win-win negotiation, both parties operate with respect towards one another with their collective energies focused on arriving at an agreement that will increase the odds of a long-lasting success.

In a win-win situation each party is able to achieve some benefit that is made possible by negotiation, flexibility, and an abandonment of the win at all costs mindset. Approaching “the fight” with a win at all costs mentality may give you a shallow victory, such as a refund, but it might cost you a lot more in terms of time, reputation and additional expenses for replacing a solution or service.

A win-win mentality improves client and company negotiations so that the resulting outcomes position everyone for greater success now and in the future.

4. Listen.

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak…”
Jeff Yates, former Software Quality Engineer at SIOS was famous for the quote, “Everyone wants to be heard, but nobody is listening.” Mr. Yates wasn’t being interviewed for a podcast or blog, but astutely observed a key challenge in the struggle for fighting fair. That is, the willingness to listen.

It’s simple. Listening is the key that unlocks better outcomes and delight. Listen first and then listen again. Philip Merry, Software Engineer at SIOS often encourages people to read and re-read case notes in order to hear what the customer is really saying and asking, before issuing the reply. Customer Support practitioners across multiple industries likewise suggest to fellow practitioners and their customers the benefit of slowing down and listening. Slowing down to listen and seeking to understand before speaking in haste will reduce frustration and miscommunication. Deep listening, thoughtful reflection on the words, tone, intonation, context, and facts of a case or conversation will greatly increase the success rates and overall delight of customer support.

5. Avoid using threats to win.

Threats often seem like a great, quick fix or way to expedite resolution. Using a threat to expedite a resolution in tough situations, like those with tight schedules, lots of oversight, and little room for delay, can be tempting to do. However, threats do not help you or the person or organization you are engaged with work towards a win-win. They also do not originate from a positive attitude, which was one of the tenants of fighting fair.

The positive results we get from making threats are mostly short term in benefit
with severe long term consequences that outweigh the initial reward.

Leveraging threats, especially unwarranted, unnecessary, and unfounded threats, will typically lead to short term benefit with long term consequences. First, threats will typically put most people, and most organizations, on the defensive. Threats can quickly escalate into power struggles, and arguments. Threats often trigger fight or flight responses and can easily shift the energy of all parties towards risk mitigation and limitation of losses and liability, and away from win-win responses. In addition, threats can lead the threatened organization to find short term, more risk laden solutions to appease the aggressors demands (timeline, price, etc).

Instead of threats, express your concerns honestly and genuinely. Let your communication be without intimidation or manipulation of others or their emotions. If negotiations become tense, look for new win-win scenarios and make sure you are approaching things with a great attitude.

Avoiding threats will help keep communication open and increase the level of trust, empathy, and motivation high.

Fighting fair is difficult! But, it is essential if we want to consistently achieve better support outcomes. Start getting better support by making a commitment to focusing on the current topic, maintaining a positive attitude, working for a win-win, listening well, and avoiding threats. Get better support outcomes by learning to fight fair!

Cassius Rhue
Cassius Rhue leads the Customer Experience team at SIOS Technology responsible for customer success spanning pre-sales, post-sales and professional services engagements. With over 19 years of experience at SIOS and a focus on the customer, his significant skills and deep knowledge in software engineering, development, design and deployment specifically in HA/DR are instrumental in addressing customer issues and driving success.


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