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What Can Negotiation Theory Teach Us About Customer Service?

Sep 14, 2015 :: 0 Comments

Let’s face it: in the world of customer service, sometimes you have to tell customers what they don’t want to hear. The result is an unhappy customer at best, or at worst, a verbal sparring match. It’s easy to feel helpless in those tough situations. We can take a page out of negotiation theory for insight on how to turn the tide in the company’s favor.

Monkey See, Monkey Do?

Humans have a tendency to reflect each other’s expressions and attitudes, a result of mirror neurons in our brain. A recent study by psychological Molly Ireland found that when two negotiators adopt a similar language style, they are more likely to reach an impasse. Surprised? While mirroring is often perceived as an expression of empathy, tuning into the mental state of a hostile customer can trigger your own hostile or competitive tone. In negotiation situations, Ireland’s data found that sticking to the task at hand, and using many task-related words, is key to navigating tough conversations.

Emotional Payments

So how can you express empathy without mirroring a customer’s snarky tone? A well-timed concession or apology can do much to reduce the pitch on an emotional conversation. Psychologists call this “making emotional payments,” reflecting the fact that it helps customers to feel “repaid” by their negative experience. Emotions can put the brakes on logic and cause customers to work against their own interests. By being an active listener and validating customers’ feelings, reps can diffuse an emotionally charged conversation.

Choose Your Words Carefully

It doesn’t take a lawyer to understand that word choice matters. Consider the difference between “This won’t happen again” and “I can assure you that this won’t happen again.” Words like “positively,” “definitely,” and “certainly” inject a little oomph into your words. The key is to establish a neutral tone and acknowledge the customer as an equal in the conversation. Just as it’s email etiquette to address someone by their name as opposed to an informal “Dear Sir or Madam,” the same goes for phone and email chats. In fact, studies have found that hearing one’s own name activates unique brain functioning.

We can always hope that all customer interactions will be positive and seamless, but it’s best to be prepared with these tips from the pros.
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