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By the time a customer reaches out for help with service and support, they’ve already made an investment that might have taken a lot for the sales and marketing team to win from them.

Over the course of generating demand for a particular product and service via a marketing campaign, for instance, a sales rep or associate might have had to spend a considerable amount of time to convert a tire-kicker into a paying customer. A big part of excellence in customer service, therefore, is not only about making sure they’re satisfied with their purchase, but that they might remain loyal and engaged enough to want to make a similar investment in the future.

All this makes bringing up financial matters particularly delicate in a customer service context. Strike the wrong tone -- whether in person, via a contact centre call, an exchange on social media or some other channel -- and you risk not only offending a customer but also ensuring they take their business elsewhere. Even worse, they might be quick to tell others about their negative encounter, given it was the last one they experienced with the company.

In certain situations, however, a discussion of finances can’t be avoided, and unfortunately, this is where some service teams may have received less training than they did in the nuts and bolts of your firm’s products. This is an area that not only requires technical knowledge and strong customer data -- which tools like Service Cloud can help you manage -- but “soft skills” like an ability to empathize.

While each financial conversation may be a little bit different depending on the customer and the issue they’re bringing forward, here are a few of the most common scenarios where you want to aim for just the right balance of frankness and diplomacy:

Scenario No.1: You Need to Suggest an Upgrade or Newer Version

Just because companies innovate aggressively with ever newer and improved versions of their products doesn’t mean that customers are always keeping pace. In fact, some customers might be quite content to stick with older versions of a product, as long as it’s providing the basic functionality they need.

There can often come a point, however, where every product becomes essentially outdated or even obsolete. Simply telling customers they need to upgrade may be dangerous, however, as it turns a service conversation into what sounds like a money-grab. Instead, try the following:

  • Use data in tools like Service Cloud to talk about the majority of customers in a particular segment or industry who have already upgraded. This may help the customer feel less alone and more eager to stay competitive with their peers.

  • Focus on the benefits of upgrading beyond merely solving their immediate problem. Look at whatever data you’ve collected on their needs and pain points and look for additional areas of potential value.

  • Where possible, look at phased upgrades with different tiers of functionality that might make it more affordable.

Customers may still not like being directed to upgrade, but they’ll appreciate honesty and a genuine effort to be as helpful as possible.

Scenario No. 2: Their Current Plan Doesn’t Cover it

Limited warranties include the word “limited” for a reason. Companies can’t necessarily support every single issue that a customer may have with a product. The same goes with services. Many services include a “basic” and “premium” plan, for example, and some even have a few in-between options. There will always be moments when a customer shelled out for one plan without fully realizing the things that are only available on the top tier.

When you remind customers or inform them about a particular plan’s limits, though, they may feel a bit like poor cousins compared to those who chose the premium version -- and it’s possible they simply can’t afford it. Here’s your play:

  • Focus on what can be done versus what can’t. Even if you can’t provide them a certain feature or benefit, you might be able to pass on expert knowledge on how they could achieve a certain objective on their own.

  • Make them aware of special promotions or discounts -- sometimes campaigns are launched precisely to encourage loyal customers on a basic plan to move up. This is another great reason why service and marketing teams should be closely aligned.

  • Capture any and all feedback, even if it’s negative, with a promise to bring it forward to the appropriate party and some kind of response. Depending on the customer, others in the organization may be prepared to make an exception, or at least to intervene in some other way that preserves the relationship.

Scenario No. 3: You Have to Follow up About a Late or Incomplete Payment

As more organizations move toward subscription-based business models, particularly for products and services that are offered digitally, there can be plenty of hiccups along the way. A customer might have used a credit card that is now outdated, for instance, or simply forgot to make a payment at the agreed-upon time.

Service teams are often given the challenging task of following up with these customers, and for obvious reasons you’ll want to make it sound as friendly as possible. Make sure you:

  • Be as simple and clear as possible. Give them the data you have on the payment or subscription, and nothing more. Don’t introduce assumptions or judgments about what might have gone wrong.

  • Pay attention to the channel you’re using. Customers might be embarrassed by a phone call or social media message about a payment issue, but more open to a respectful email.

  • Give them as many self-service options as possible. A customer portal or even a chatbot could make the experience feel more discreet for customers who want to draw as little attention to the issue as they can.

Customers know companies need money to survive, but talking to them about finances in the right way is key to reducing churn and encouraging a greater share of wallet. In other words, it’s an effort that offers a big long-term payoff.