Skip the ‘I told you so’ and get really good at three things

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The phrase, “I told you so” is a timeless retort spoken from the lips of first graders to senior adults. It can be heard after hilarious falls on playgrounds, as well as after the not so humorous moments in hallways, offices, clinics, and living rooms. As a parent, I’ve said it more times than I can count, and heard it said back to me by my parents, siblings, children, and spouse.

Recently, I was asked to put my technical chops on the line and make recommendations for a new computer monitor. After gathering the requirements and reviewing the client’s options, I suggested an item that met the requirements from the technical and financial requirements. But the client chose to go in a different route, the route I not only did not recommend but even strongly warned against due to its physical and technical limitations. Two days later, when their euphoria wore off, they called lamenting the purchase and looking for new solutions.

So, what do you do when you are listening to the inevitable outcome of a decision that your customer was forewarned about? How do you choke down the “I told you so” that feels like it is about to burst out of your chest and through your lips:

Here are three important suggestions:

1. Be still and quiet

Be still. Be quiet. First, be still. In the first five to ten seconds of a client or customer update, our natural inclination can cause us to rush to react. In reacting we are most likely to respond aggressively, and without a customer-focused response. Being still, physically helps us train our bodies, and even our tongues, to resist the urge to immediately respond. While this period of time, ten seconds, can also feel like an eternity, the small pause will help us process the right response, a response that is customer-focused and does not include the words “I told you so.” In these ten seconds, be quiet.

2. Listen carefully

The tendency to say “I told you so” will rise anytime a customer runs into an issue that they have been warned about, clicked past in the product UI, or ignored when going through initial onboarding or documentation. That includes every instance of a highlighted and bold warning telling them not to do A or it will result in B. But, when they call with the problem described in the documentation, reviewed in the onboarding meeting, or blocked by five confirmation screens in the product, it is far better to listen than respond with “I told you so.” Listening unlocks details about the customer and the product. As you listen, try to understand the following:
a. Why did they continue?
b. What were they trying to do?
c. What could they have done differently?
d. Where could the product, documentation, or onboarding be improved?
In the discussion, you may even realize that the blue lever, red dial, and green push buttons are in the wrong order, location, or completely unnecessary.

3. Respond confidently, with empathy

After listening and resisting every urge to say “I told you so” during the opening phases of the ticket, it will be time to respond. This requires even more skill. In addition to avoiding the explicit “I told you so”, resist the temptation to dive into a lecture about bad habits, poor planning, failing to RTFM, and stay away from any of the other ninety-nine implied versions of “I told you so!” Don’t be ruthless in your response.

Instead, respond with the knowledge that this customer has come to a hard place and needs help. The kind of help that a direct and accusatory “I told you so” will not provide, and for which even the most subtle and indirect “I told you so” will only hamper and delay the resolution. I would even suggest banishing the “I told you so” mindset from your thoughts completely. Otherwise, your tone will be condescending, your explanations patronizing and demeaning, or in some other manner equally hurtful. When a customer is already hurting and in hot water they do not need patronizing responses, or other selfish platitudes from a perch of superiority. Giving them any form of this will lead them into defensiveness that can forestall root cause analysis, prevent them from making better habits, or even cause them to reconsider being a customer.

As you respond, realize that what the customer needs you to do is help them reframe the negatives into a positive outcome. They “don’t want someone to say I told you so.” But instead use this low point to help them stop falling, get up, start fresh and establish a new baseline for success and productivity.

They need a response that is realistic, timely, empathetic, and well-versed in navigating the quagmire of this issue. If we don’t do this as CX experts, we will lose our credibility and our customers. The choice is yours, but if you choose poorly, I won’t say “I told you so.”

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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