Assume that the hard drive on your computer crashed. Either a) you had continuously backed-up your files to the cloud or b) you have never backed-up your data anywhere. When you call your computer manufacturer’s technical support hotline, do you think you will have a different expectation about how you will be treated depending on which is the actual case?  Will you have a different stress level in either case? Will you want a different level of compassion? You bet you will!!

What this example demonstrates is that our customer’s expectations will vary depending on the stress level they are experiencing – the higher the stress, the higher the expected empathy. And it works the same way for B2B customers. Imagine you run a small business and use your only printer to produce quotations and order acknowledgements, and the printer stops printing for no apparent reason. When you call tech support, do you want any answer NOW! or will you be happy to listen to a long IVR commercial message before getting into a phone tree? Again, a no brainer.

What these two examples demonstrate is that customer’s stress level impacts their expected response. However, I have never seen a transactional survey ask about stress level nor have I talked with anyone who is correlating call center CSAT results with the customer’s probable stress as determined from examining CRM notes or listening to actual recordings of transactions. The only thing we know for sure is that unless your employees take exceptional care of your customers when they are highly stressed-out, you will alienate them and may lose then forever as soon as they can get out from any agreements, etc.

According to a recent blog post,

“the ability of an employee to satisfy an upset customer on the spot is essential to diffusing and potentially rescuing a customer relationship. The reason this is so powerful is that most customers don’t expect employees to be so empowered. This is also why most upset customers immediately ask for a manager, rather than explain their problems to the first employee that attempts to assist them.”

Here is a real life example of a business using this approach. Ritz-Carlson hotels are considered to be some of the best properties in the world. Their customers are incredibly loyal and they are frequently the subjects of case studies in business literature and even on television. A major contributor to this success is a standing policy of empowering every employee to spend up to $2,000 to satisfy any guest – without any additional approval. That’s right – $2,000! Each morning at every Ritz-Carlton property, the staff has a meeting to discuss whatever is going on that day, review actions individuals took to satisfy a guest on the previous day, and any other news that the hotel management decided was interesting to share. And the results are a growing stack of best-in-class awards.

If the lifetime value of your customers does not warrant a $2,000 limit, then pick something that is more comfortable to you. Or find another way to allow your employees to de-stress a stressed-out customer. It doesn’t matter what it is but they better have something in their back pocket to pull out when needed. It can be something as simple as a lollipop. Here is a quote talking about gifts:

If not a lollipop then free gifts of any sort or value, or even something spontaneous like a banana. A banana? Yes!! Years ago the VP of R&D for a large Process Control System company had an employee walk into his office and describe an idea he had. The VP was so excited that he rumbled all through his desk looking to give the engineer as a thank-you. He finally found a yellow banana and handed it to the fellow saying, “I just had to give you something for coming up with that great idea.” The company eventually created a banana pin to be worn on a jacket lapel and gave them out to employees who went above and beyond the call of duty. Wearing a banana on their suit coat was a badge of honor!

So, whenever you want to diffuse a difficult situation or recognize great efforts don’t forget to give something tangible and, over time, it will develop its own value proposition.