Think of the last customer service fail you experienced. You might think, how did this happen? Why did the company I contacted give me an idiotic response? Why didn’t they answer my question? Or why did they (figuratively or literally) hang up the phone?
 
We’ve all made these mistakes. There might be many reasons – you might be too busy to respond fully, might not have enough time to research a solution, or you might just be having a bad day. Yet the impact of making a customer service mistake ripples beyond the immediate interaction, the immediate customer, and the immediate brand impact. 
 
What do you do after you’ve made a customer service “oops?” Here are some solutions to help you catch yourself before you make such a mistake, or to give you tools to resolve the problem before it becomes a crisis. 
 

Too Busy to Actually ‘Help’

 
“Wait, I know I can solve this, but I have 26 other things to do.” You know this has gone through your head, and even if handling support requests is your primary responsibility there is always more to do. 
 
So do this first: *acknowledge the customer* as quickly as possible, and give them a realistic expectation of when they might hear back from you. You will save yourself a lot of heartache if you read the case from top to bottom and understand the whole issue. 
 
You will also save time if you suggest a solution that the customer can follow to self-help and resolve their own issue. (If your only solution is “Hello, I.T., have you turned off and on again,” you might want to refine your suggestions.) 
 
 
The goal of responding even when you are busy is to provide the best answer possible at the time and to remove a blocker for the customer. 
 
Even if you can’t provide the best answer possible you should be able to move them forward. And if you use the same answer more than twice you should turn it into a standard answer that you can insert automatically with just a few keystrokes – check out TextExpander for that.
 

Too Big a Problem For an Immediate Solution

 
Great – so you’ve managed to respond and sound reasonably intelligent – but the problem is “bigger than a bread box.” In fact, you’re not sure what the problem is and how to solve it. Many customer requests might end up being much more complicated than you or they would prefer, especially when you can’t solve them with a single back-and-forth interaction.
 
Here are some things you can do when you don’t have enough information to solve a problem. 
 
You can always ask for qualifying information from the customer. When you give them the same troubleshooting steps you might use, you involve the customer in the process and are helping them to learn how to “fish” for the solution. 
 
You can also try to solve the problem yourself and share whether you can find a solution. This one seems obvious, yet sometimes you can short-circuit the problem by ruling out options and save you and the customer a lot of time. You can also ask for help from your team or from “Uncle Google.”
 

You’re Having a Bad Day

 
It’s okay to tell the customer you’re sorry when you’ve responded sharply after having a bad day. It would be better if this never happens, but it does. So start with the premise that the customer wants to solve their problem and is not interested in beating you up – they just are really frustrated.
 
Before every email or call, take a breath and imagine the customer’s frame of mind. If you need to apologize because you started off on the wrong foot, apologize sincerely and do whatever it takes to avoid responding in the same way again to that customer. When they hear that you are doing the best you can, you’ll get a better response, even if the customer is annoyed with their issue.
 
If you act in the best interest of the customer to solve their problem, you’ll be able to offer the right set of solutions that match their problem. That doesn’t always mean that you will make them happy, and it does mean that you will act with integrity. And you will either avoid making these common customer service mistakes or you’ll be able to recover when you find yourself in that situation.
 
Greg Meyer is a Manager of Customer Wow at the Desk.com team at Salesforce. You can find him on Twitter at @grmeyer.