“When going the extra mile requires more than boring old feet.”

If you’ve ever held any form of customer service job, I’d be willing to bet that you would have run into your fair share of quite… overzealous customers. I’m sure you’ve had days where it’s felt like you spent less time working and more time venting your frustrations to your colleagues.

As easy as it is to simply disregard customers by labelling them as ignorant or stupid, wouldn’t it be more rewarding to see them as a challenge, as an opportunity? No matter how high or seemingly ridiculous their expectations may seem, “stupid” or “ignorant” customers are offering you the chance to hone your interpersonal skills and turn a potential disaster into a customer service victory.

I stumbled upon a Reddit thread from 2013 with the volatile title: “What is the dumbest customer complaint you’ve ever received?” As I’m sure you can imagine the responses cover the complete spectrum, from completely relatable to borderline unimaginable. However, there’s a common theme running through just about all of the responses posted: ridiculous expectations.

Have a look at the following customer complaints:

“One time, a woman complained that we made her sandwich ‘much too fast’ and refused to eat it.”

I live my life in a seemingly perpetual state of hunger, so it’s hard for me to sympathise here. When I order a sandwich, I’d be more than happy for it to be made directly into my mouth, dramatically minimising my Order to Consumption Rate (OCR). Clearly her expectations differ from the norm, but that’s no reason to completely dismiss her as a customer. Instead, we should be thinking about what we can do to meet her expectations in the future.

It’s also worth considering just exactly why she reacted this way.  Perhaps her reason for coming in wasn’t solely to have something to eat. She may have had a long day and was excited to have some time to sit down and relax before her lunch. Never assume your customers are simply ignorant or clueless. Instead, try assuming you just don’t understand them yet.

Technically you may have done nothing wrong, but apologising and offering a solution never hurts. So what can we do? One solution would be to offer the customer a seat and offer to bring her sandwich over at a time that’s more convenient for her. Alternatively, make a note of this customer so you can offer to put her order on hold if she returns in the future. Remember: no situation, no matter how ridiculous, is unrectifiable.

“I don’t want grilled chicken! I want fried — I’m watching my fat intake.”

The online responses to this complaint are particularly vitriolic. Sure, this customer may have the dietary knowledge of a child trying to claim pizza as a vegetable, but an ill-informed customer isn’t necessarily a bad one. In fact, a complaint like this offers an excellent opportunity to educate your customers, so they can make an informed decision in the future — they may even thank you for it.

Complaint: “Why won’t you let my child swim in the deep end?”

Response: “Because she can’t swim.”

Let’s ignore the initial complaint here for a second. What I want to focus on, rather, is the response to the complaint.  Other than being dismissive and making the customer appear foolish, this response offers no solution to the issue: the child can’t swim. Instead of disregarding the customer’s complaint as pure ignorance, why not offer an alternative — a solution? Does the pool offer floatation devices the child could use? Can the parent go into the deep end with the child? Focus on what needs to happen before the child can swim, highlighting the dangers involved with swimming in the deep end. Finding a solution is always your goal.

Sarcastic comments do nothing but dissuade customers. Keep it up and you won’t have to worry about children swimming in the deep end, because they’ll all be swimming at some other pool with friendlier staff.

Exceeding Expectations

Amidst the sea of negativity, I did manage to find one example of positive customer service. You see, meeting customer expectations sometimes requires going above and beyond what would typically be considered necessary. Take a look at the following glimmer of customer service sunshine:

“…when I was really little, my mom and I ordered dessert at a restaurant. I wanted the chocolate mousse because I thought it would be an actual small chocolate moose. When a little boring bowl of chocolate mousse showed up, I was visibly disappointed. My mom didn’t complain, of course, because kids are stupid and I had learned my lesson. But the waiter noticed my moose-less despair, asked what was wrong, and then took the mousse back, poured it into tin-foil and shaped it into a little moose head for me.”

This is a perfect example of finding a creative way to meet an equally creative customer expectation. It would have been much easier for this waiter to point out the obvious differences between chocolate mousse and a literal moose, but a little creative thinking and determination turned what would have been a rather forgettable experience into an unforgettable one.

Customer service can sometimes seem like a never ending stream of high expectation curveballs. Learn how to knock them out of the park with Canity!