Difficult to Understand Customers

While the frequency of the situation depends on the type of company, a customer service representative will almost certainly talk to someone they have trouble understanding at one point in their customer service career. When it does occur, what’s the best thing to do? Here are some tips and suggestions I’ve found to be effective:

  • Speak slowly. People tend to respond to the way you speak and mimic it to some degree. With that in mind, speak slowly and clearly when you are working with a customer who is difficult to understand.
  • Ask close ended questions. Instead of asking questions that prompt long or complicated responses, stick to asking simple questions that can be answered with a yes or a no. This will make communication easier for everyone.
  • Ask customers to spell things. You obviously have to use discretion when choosing to do this, but asking customers to spell information can be helpful. If they say they live at 123 Random Street (but what they say doesn’t sound anything like that), asking the customer to spell that out will likely make it easier to get the correct information in a timely manner.
  • Ask customers to adjust their tone. If the issue is purely a thick accent, there isn’t much that can be done in this area. However, if a customer is just speaking too softly (or too loudly) or seems to have a bad connection, make them aware of this. It usually isn’t hard for a customer to raise or lower their voice or to call back to get a new connection. Be careful and be sure to use your best service etiquette when asking customers to adjust their tone. Something like, “I’m sorry, but I am having trouble understanding you. Would you mind speaking up a little bit?” tends to work well.
  • Identify who is good at working with difficult to understand customers. Some employees are just better at working with customers who are difficult to understand than others are. If your company is lucky enough to have such employees, identify who they are and kindly redirect the customers that are very difficult to understand to these employees. 

When a customer is truly difficult to understand, there is only so much that can be done. The methods above have always worked fairly well for me. What has worked well for you in the past?