Your best response the first time

I recently started using an outside software service at Collegewise to help us collect signatures by email for our employee documents. Enabling a particular option within the account requires that you contact them, and this week, I’d been bounced around to four different people, each less helpful than the previous one, when an account rep reached out over email to introduce himself. Great! I shared my problem and asked if he could help me fix it. He told me it sounded like a support problem and recommended I contact them (for the third time).

I replied that I’d already been down that road, and expressed that I was starting to question if the service was actually worth the money. That’s when this reply came back:

I would be happy to hop on a quick call to make sure I fully understand what you are trying to accomplish, and then point you in the right direction to make sure this doesn’t keep happening to you. Do you have some time available today?

Sure, that’s better. But why didn’t he start with that response?

Why did he wait until the potential of losing the account was on the table? I’d told him about my situation. He had all the information he needed. He could have swooped in, made a sincere offer to help, and made me feel better about the investment. But if I have to question whether or not I want to keep being a customer in order for him to be helpful, he hasn’t made the situation better. He’s prolonged the frustration. And worst of all, he’s shown me that the squeaky, complaining wheel will always get the grease of attention.

If you serve customers or constituents, you won’t always have the answer or the solution to their problem. But you can apologize for what’s gone wrong. You can show them that you genuinely want to do what you can to fix it. You can make the effort to leave them a little (or a lot) better off than they were when they contacted you. And you can send them away feeling good about the interaction.

But you have to make the choice to do those things.

Don’t withhold your best reply until it’s the only tool left in your arsenal. Instead, give them your best response the first time.