Best CSRs Beat Attribution Error in Customer Service

Whether you are a customer service leader or a customer, you have most likely witnessed great customer service reps (CSRs) or technical support reps. dealing easily with difficult situations. What makes the best CSRs successful is that they define the moments as difficult situations not as difficult customers.

CSRs can change tough situations into successful outcomes with listening, empathy, knowledge, and action. They can’t change people and the best CSRs know this.

Beat Attribution Error

In fact, the best CSRs actually beat a common mistake most people make in everyday life — attribution error.

Attribution error is the tendency to over value personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors. (Source: Wikipedia).

Stated simply, we think it’s something inside of the people that makes them act badly. Meanwhile when it is our own behavior, we are more likely to attribute it to external conditions.

Since the best CSRs free themselves from the grip of attribution error, they shine and succeed at:

    1. Empathy. They walk easily in the customers’ shoes because they believe external conditions have caused the customers’ behavior. If instead you attribute the behavior to something evil or sinister inside of the customers, how or why would you empathize?


    1. Empowerment. They believe that they can fix external conditions and this fuels their desire to work through the details and with the customers.


    1. Listening. The best CSRs value listening as critically as surgeons value their instruments. It is through listening that they find the external conditions they must fix.


    1. Knowledge. They also use the knowledge of previous customers’ behaviors to prevent future attribution error. The best CSRs have proven to themselves that external conditions cause many of the difficult situations — not malicious customers intending harm.


  1. Well-timed Action. CSRs caught in the grip of attribution error, often try to push irate or upset customers to calm down. The best CSRs know that listening and well-timed communication calm the customers and unearth the external conditions leading to action.

The implication for training CSRs is quite clear. Have them do a simple exercise like using another company’s website. As they encounter challenges, do they blame themselves for the difficulty or do they blame external conditions like website design, or internet connection speed etc…? Then raise the issue of attribution error.

The next time upset or irate customers call, the CSRs’ attitudes will be far more empathetic. If you have empowered them to take action, you will also see fewer call escalations to team leaders and supervisors.

BONUS: Lower stress. CSRs who view tough moments as difficult situations that they can fix, experience less stress and greater fulfillment. Now that’s motivation!

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach
M.A. Organizational Psychology

©2011-2012 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ.  If you want to re-post or republish the content of this post,  please first email for terms of use. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Related post: Hiring, a Natural Call to Customer Serivce

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on customer service experience, teamwork, and leading change. She turns interaction obstacles into business success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

3 Responses to “Best CSRs Beat Attribution Error in Customer Service”

  1. Great points Kate. Too often we don’t set aside enough time and resources for CSR training. Yet when we give our team the right training and resources we save time through fewer escalations.

  2. Kate,
    This is SO good. You hit a grand slam on this one! This is my favorite sentence, “What makes the best CSRs successful is that they define the moments as difficult situations not as difficult customers.” Yes! Yes! Yes! It’s not personal.
    The great thing is, these difficult situations are great opportunities to make lasting fans. There is nothing like being heard and having someone do everything possible to find a resolution. As a customer, you never forget that!


    • Kate Nasser says:

      I am gratified by your compliment and truly excited about your connection to customer loyalty. Oddly enough, when you work it as a difficult situation and don’t take it personally — the customer feels like you are personally taking care of him/her!

      Great add on this post.
      Thank you!

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