Customer Service Recovery: Use People Skills to Deliver vs. Defend

Customer Service Recovery: People Skills Deliver Care Not a Defense!

There is one persistent human temptation that threatens customer service recovery — the urge to defend in difficult moments.

Customer Service Recovery, Don't Defend. Image is a sling shot.

Customer Service Recovery: Use People Skills to Deliver vs Defend

Grateful for image by: Craig1Black via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Through 25 years of working with customer service and technical support teams, I have seen it happen over and over. Instead of delivering care, the defensive phrases come out and enrage customers further.

What concerned me recently was the advice of a customer service consultant in a blog post about diplomacy in customer service recovery. 

I was alarmed when I read her #1 tip — to tell the customer this (defensive) statement:

“I’m trying to help you.”

Customer Service Recovery – Deliver Don’t Defend!

People skills allow you to deliver great customer recovery with definitive caring statements like “I will help you” not defensive reactions like “I’m trying to help you.”

When customers here the phrase “I’m trying to help you”, they hear the defensive suggestions:

  • I’m doing my best …
  • Things take time …
  • You’re being unreasonable …
  • You’re not treating me well …

Even a positive tone of voice cannot turn the phrase trying to help you into a great customer service recovery statement. It casts doubt over whether you care and whether you can help. Doubt sinks recovery.

How can you overcome the urge to defend?

  1. Be aware of your own frustration level. The more frustrated you become, the greater the chance you will reply defensively!
  2. Pause your conversation every time the customer frizzles. The pause produces an empathetic response instead of a defensive reaction.
  3. Picture yourself at the finish with a satisfied customer — because you cared and helped.

Even if the customer continues to frizzle, stay in the moment of care. Don’t lapse into defensiveness. It makes it tougher on them, tougher on you, and leaves a terrible lasting impression — even if you resolve the issue.

You and your entire technical support and customer service teams can handle the most difficult moments with care and skill. I am here to help with customized workshops.

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
The Emotionally Intelligent Mindset for Super Customer Experience
5 Things to Think w/Rude Customers for Customer Service Recovery

©2013 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

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

14 Responses to “Customer Service Recovery: Use People Skills to Deliver vs. Defend”

  1. Khalid says:

    It looks that there are countless words that we use in dealing with customers without being AWARE of its drastic effect on our service.

    Thanks for your enlightment Kate


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Khalid,
      Yes as you say there are quite a few phrases that can sink customer service. Awareness of the impact of what we say and do is the key to our continued learning and pathway to delivering excellent service!

      Thanks as always for your contributions to this blog!!!

  2. Alli Polin says:

    I HATE when someone in customer service tells me “I’m trying to help you” and it actually sets me off. Your third tip here is infinitely more powerful and positive. Be on the same side as the customer and envision you’re both happy with the outcomes and experience! Thank you for doing your part to eradicate that terrible phrase from customer service!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you Alli. I picked up on the passion and mission I have on this topic. With this particular phrase, the intentions may be good yet the result is horrible — as you clearly noted. I love to work with customer service orgs. to make the small changes that make a big difference!

      Always grateful to have your input here.

      Warmest thanks,

  3. Teresa Allen says:

    Kudos on a very important post. Similar to the “I’m trying to help you” phrase is the “I’m doing the best I can…”
    I actually recount such an occurrence in my chapter of The Service Path: Your Roadmap for Building Strong Customer Loyalty. I had waited a LONG time in line at Walmart, frustrated by the 20 unattended registers that could have been used to serve customers in a more timely manner. Finally reaching the checkout clerk, I expressed frustration on why they didn’t have more registers open and she said, “I’m doing the best I can” – which she was until that moment!
    The customer doesn’t care how hard you are working – only on the results they are receiving.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Yes Teresa! “I’m doing the best I can” is a defensive statement in which the provider will surely lose. Thanks for adding to the list!

      Hope you will visit often and lend your perspective.

      Regards and thanks,

  4. In the last week I was both the customer and the person delivering customer service and I can tell you without a doubt that this is the truth.

    I became very frustrated with my customer service person and she kept putting the blame back on me. There was no blame to give. I wasn’t blaming her! I was frustrated because the situation was frustrating. I didn’t need her to defend herself. I needed her to help me work through it.

    When I deal with upset customers and clients I need to remember that above all they want to feel heard. And then they want to be helped. My job is to listen and help. But this is hard when you are on the end of a frustrated rant.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Chloe,
      What a great contribution to this blog post for you so clearly explain how the natural desire to defend keeps making things worse and worse. There is no need to blame the customer. It doesn’t ease the trouble it intensifies it.

      Staying cool and still caring is a skill that every service rep can develop. Truly! I teach it constantly and see great success all around.

      Thank you Chloe for weighing in on this post and adding such a wonderful personal story.

      Warmest regards,

  5. Sean Hawkins says:

    I’m in complete agreement with this post. I coach agents to avoid defensive statements and when I hear them, I provide immediate feedback. As a customer it upsets me to have a service agent become defensive. As a call center mangers, even more so. These tips are short and to the point. I will be passing this on to my team!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you so much Sean. I am thrilled that you find it valuable and would love to hear their comments. In fact, would love them to post their thoughts & comments on the blog! Wouldn’t that be interesting?

      Awaiting their replies!
      Thanks and best wishes,

  6. Cheyserr says:

    I worked as a customer service representative for more than a year. There are tough times. Times when I as a representative and I’m not feeling so well then I received a difficult customer. Frustration kicks in very quickly and I became upset with the customer that refuses to listen when I am actually “trying to help.” However, through time, I realized that I was an upset customer too a few times, whether in a low service on a fast food chain or a unhelpful sales rep in a boutique. Then, I learned to be more understanding especially with the frustration of the customer who just received a bad service/product that I am representing. I know understanding is not quite empathy but I think we can start from there.

    By the way, I really liked your third tip. Thinking positive is a good start for generating positive results.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Cheyserr,
      You so clearly describe how bad feelings on all sides can simply make things worse — and then show how as a professional you see the value in doing the giving.

      Glad you found this post helpful and the tips actionable!

      Warmest regards with an invitation to you to visit here often and contribute your experience, insight, and inspiration.

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