What to say when you don't know what to say
Let's face it: we have all been in situations where we didn't know what to say. While customer service professionals are usually experts in their fields, some questions make us stop for a second, as well.
People who work in customer service are humans as well. Not knowing an answer is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. It is essential to be prepared for these situations, though.
You don't understand what the customer is asking.
Sometimes, it just seems like you and the customer are on entirely different wavelengths. You might have been talking for a while, but you don't understand what they are asking. That happens more often than you would think.
Consider this: every company or team develops some "internal" language and abbreviations. Over time, an unwritten collection of internal jargon is created that becomes natural for your organisation. The problem: it's not natural for your customers.
If you don't know the answer because you don't know what the customer is asking, play detective. You know your product (at least, you should 😉), so you know what problems usually occur. Ask (open) questions to narrow down the problem and put yourself into the customer's shoes.
Answer what you can
Quite often, it happens that a customer calls and starts a 5-minute monologue about their problem and the questions they have. On a side-note: that customer is usually me 😉
Sometimes, a problem is so complex that question after question arises for your customer. In my experience, the issues become more and more difficult.
What I usually do when I am on the receiving end of one of these calls, is answering what I can. I might not be able to explain everything at once, simply because some problems are too complicated, but I want to give all the answers I can. For the rest, I schedule a follow-up and explain that I need to do some research or connect with a colleague on that topic. The importance here: follow through on your promise and actually get back to the customer.
Be confident about your lack of knowledge.
Of course, you will also encounter situations where you really don't know the answers. If that happens, make sure your customer understands that. Don't beat around the bush, just be upfront. At the same time, keep your authority.
Saying "I don't know" means the customer defeated you. Instead, show confidence about your lack of knowledge. For example, by saying "That is an excellent question. I want to make sure I give you the correct answer on that. Can I call you back in 15 minutes?"
Boom! We turned something that seemed hopeless into a win-win situation: your customer gets a qualified answer, and you can expand your knowledge (and keep authority in front of your customer).
After all, you are a human being, and your customers will value that more than a robotic response. Be confident about that.
Don't pass them around.
I have seen this many times: an agent doesn't know the answer and wants to pass the customer on to somebody else. Especially in bigger teams that happens quite a lot.
Sometimes, this is not due to a lack of knowledge but the inability to help. "This is a billing issue. Please hold while I connect you." is not something the individual agent can change. It's a structural problem.
As a manager of a bigger team, make sure that your team is empowered to answer frequently asked questions. If a customer needs help with an invoice, train them for that and give them confidence. Part of that confidence is also knowing what to do when they don't know the answer (see above - redirection is not a solution 😉).
I would rather have an agent tell me that they will call me back than sending me into an endless nirvana of redirections and music (see paragraph above)
As I always say on this blog: treat your customers like you would like to be treated yourself.
If you have to pass a customer on, pass them on correctly.
Yes, sometimes it is unavoidable, and you have to pass a customer on to one of your colleagues. If this does happen, please make sure you are connecting your customers correctly. An endless loop of back and forth annoy everybody involved: you, your team, and your customer.
Conclusion: don't make assumptions you can't back up.
To conclude: if you don't know what to say, don't make educated guesses. They are precisely what they are called: guesses. Don't make assumptions when a customer turns to you for help.
They reach out - whether by email, phone, or chat - because you are an authority to them. You are customer service. You know what you are doing.
If you go to a grocery store, you don't want the cashier to say "Well, that would be around 30€". You want them to tell you the specific amount you have to pay. Same goes for your customers.
If you don't know what to say, own up to it. Don't take guesses. If it doesn't work out, you will have more work cleaning up the mess.