The Customer Service Survival Kit

What to Say to Defuse Even the Worst Customer Situations

The Customer Service Survival Kit

Author: Richard S. Gallagher
Pub Date: March 2013
Print Edition: $17.95
Print ISBN: 9780814431832
Page Count: 208
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814431849

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I love worst-case scenarios.

Why? Because they hold the key to creating truly incredible service.

Think about it. There is a lot of bad service out there. And most

of it happens because people who serve the public constantly fear the

worst, and then react to everyone from a defensive posture. Scratch

the surface of most disengaged people who serve the public, and more

often than not you will find fear lurking there. They feel alone and

vulnerable on a very public stage, worrying about when the next custo-

mer will leave them twisting defenselessly in the wind.

When service providers don’t bother to ask you what you want, it

is often because they are afraid they won’t be able to handle what you

tell them. When they tell you ‘‘no,’’ they are hiding behind their policies

because they have no idea how to negotiate with you. Even

though they wear name tags that say ‘‘Hi, Can I Help You?’’ they are

silently praying you will just go away creating as little damage as pos-

sible. And when you demand to speak to a manager, they often pass

you off to someone who is as frightened and as clueless as they are.

So how do you change this fear? By teaching people the skills that

hostage negotiators, crisis counselors, psychotherapists, and police

officers use in their worst situations. When people learn these skills,

everything changes. They become supremely confident in any situation.

They can really engage customers, because they know they are

able to lean back on these communications skills for anything some-

one might throw at them. It is here, in this zone of incredible confidence,

that greatness takes root.

I know this works because I have watched it happen over and over.

Let me share a little about myself. I am a former customer support

executive who is now a public speaker as well as a practicing

marriage and family therapist. My specialty is teaching people what

to say in their most difficult situations. (In other words, when I am

not busy having people get angry at me onstage in front of large

audiences, I put myself in the middle of other people’s family conflicts

—go figure!)

Before I did that, I had a reputation for dramatically turning

around the performance of customer-contact operations: creating

near-perfect customer-satisfaction ratings, near-zero turnover, and

record sales. It was here that I discovered the incredible power of the

worst-case scenario. I found that when you teach people how to han-

dle these worst cases, they become superstars. And when you teach

everyone on a team how to handle them, the results are truly magical.

Worst-case situations are defined by a customer’s extreme reaction,

no matter what actually happened. This book will teach you how

to handle these situations calmly and professionally. Many of the

book’s examples will walk you through scenarios where the stakes are

high, where people are completely unreasonable, or where someone is

hopping mad and you are totally, utterly at fault. Others will examine

routine situations where the wrong words could ignite a confrontation,

and the right words can prevent one. You will learn how to walk

safely into all of these discussions, defuse them with the skill of a bomb

squad, and send everyone away feeling better.

Best of all, you don’t need to become braver, smarter, or craftier.

You just need to use different words that I will teach you, step-bystep,

using scenarios many of us lie awake at night worrying about.

These words come from very recent, empirical principles of communi-

cations psychology that trigger the way other people think and feel.

Using real-life dialogues and chapter exercises, including an appendix

with my solutions, you will learn the same communications skills that

I teach in my live training programs.

There is just one catch to learning these skills: You must be prepared

to take your human nature and stand it on its head. Instead of

defending yourself, you will learn how to lean into criticism with

gusto. Rather than minimizing the consequences of something, you

will learn how to out-dramatize an angry customer and to take catch-

phrases like ‘‘I understand’’ and banish them forever. You will also

learn to challenge your assumptions about difficult customers. It will

be a wild ride in spots.

Here is why the ride will be worth it. Techniques like these spring

from the relatively new field of strength-based communications,

which has swept areas like athletic coaching, psychotherapy, and bus-

iness leadership like a tidal wave in recent years—because it works.

And when you see how well it works in your most difficult customer

situations, it will become clear why all those years of telling yourself

and your team to be ‘‘nicer’’ never changed anything. When you get

rid of the fear that sits behind most human interactions, you will find

an authentic core of confidence that drives great service.

When we first ask people how they would handle really tough

situations in our training courses, they often reply, ‘‘We’d ask our boss

to handle it.’’ In this book, you are the boss. And by learning and

practicing these skills, you stand a good chance of becoming the boss

in real life, if you aren’t one already. Leaders often stand out because

of their ability to resolve conflict, and you are about to join the club.

There is one more reason for learning how to handle your worst

customer situations. These skills will affect the rest of your life in a

big way. They will change the way you communicate with your super-

visors, your coworkers, your children, and your life partner. (Trust me

on this one—I have been together with mine for nearly forty years.)

When you know how to make it safe to talk about anything, you get

an added bonus of trust, intimacy, and goodwill that fundamentally

changes your relationships with others.

Your cost for all of these benefits? You just need to be prepared to

look at your worst customer situations differently, with an open mind,

and be willing to put these techniques to work. They take practice,

but in time they will become a natural part of who you are. And then

you will discover, as I have, how your worst customers can become

the best friends your service career ever had.

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