Pace and Lead Strategy

I found this post linked to from a blog I like quite a bit (Lifehacker). The strategy, theory, exercise, etc. they talk about is called pace and lead. I have never heard of it in those exact words before, but the strategy is a fairly common one utilized by experienced customer service representatives and taught by trainers.

I’m not sure if I would exactly yell “They what?!? You’ve got to be kidding! If that happened, it’s unacceptable!!” as that makes it seem as if you are either unaware that things go wrong or just react quite a bit. Plus, the phrase “If that happened” could be misinterpreted by some customers as the representative doubting their accuracy in describing the problem and/or the customer’s honesty. I can see how it would make some customers feel better, but personally, I’d rather have a customer service representative that was a bit calmer and more collected.

Here is a lighter example of pace and lead:

Company: Hi, thanks for calling Company XYZ. My name is Bob, how may I help you?
Customer: Hi Bob, this is Betty from Company ABC. Our Internet is down.
Company: Mary, your Internet should not be down and this isn’t acceptable. Let me look into it and see what I can do to help you.
Customer: Thanks Bob.
Company: Mary, thank you for your patience. I looked into this and it appears there is an issue with the router in your building. If you don’t mind holding for about 5 minutes, I’ll call so and so right now and they can fix this in such and such a time.

It has a similar effect as the more serious/intense pacing and leading. The customer in this scenario isn’t very irate, so representatives may have to adjust their tone/words accordingly.

Pacing and leading is something that representatives should be taught during their initial training (whether it be book, classroom and/or mentor-based). It is something that definitely requires practice and is hard to teach flat out because it varies so much based on the customer, the time, the problem, etc. There is a fine line between empathizing with the customer and over-reacting and perhaps scaring them that you are a bit too “intense.”

Customer service “experts” may disagree with pace/lead, mainly because it is asking the customer service representative to stop remaining calm. If the customer service representative is freaking out, chances are the customer will feed off of that. Imagine if 911 operators were like “That happened? I can’t believe it.” – some customers look at certain company’s customer service departments as their 911-equivalent. 911 operators are usually dealing with people who are very upset and a huge part of their job is remaining calm and hoping the caller will feed off of that.

However, people who use pace/lead effectively will continue to tone it down to what the author of the blog post calls a productive state. There are lots of things companies do to deal with angry customers. I advise people to train their representatives to:

  1. Let the customer vent.
  2. Apologize for any inconveniences, regardless of who’s fault it is.
  3. Immediately assure the customer that you (the representative) understand their problem and want to help them fix it.
  4. Proceed with troubleshooting and fixing.

This works with most customers in most situations. It isn’t 100% fool proof, and pacing/leading can be integrated into that process fairly easily. I’d never suggest that a customer service representative try to match an angry customer’s tone (in fact, I’d advise against it), but I do recommend that representatives try and use some form of pacing/leading in addition to a traditional operating procedure for dealing with angry customers (like the one above).

Tomorrow’s post will be about when and when not to use the words “How are you?”.