Those words literally means a person is incapable of doing what is desired. “I can’t” suggests that the help or solutions is impossible for that person to provide.
It rarely means that in actuality.
Here’s what “I can’t” more often means:
I won’t. The person is capable but unwilling. They’ve chosen to limit any inconvenience to themselves or their schedule by dismissing you. They aren’t willing to exert the necessary effort. This is a motivation problem.
I don’t know how. This person desires to help but hasn’t been taught the skills or how to use the system to do what needs to be done. This is a training problem or a system problem (employees can’t make a broken system work).
I’m afraid. Individuals in this category believe—correctly or incorrectly—that if they do what the customer would like, they will be punished. This is a management problem.
I don’t like you. When someone feels pushed, they usually push back. If you’ve offended the person in a position to help, they can become resistant or, at worst, punitive. This is a relational problem.
I refuse. This is similar to I won’t. The difference it that you both know the person could help you but simply refuses to do so. This is an attitude problem.
These are all leadership problems. Those who lead customer service departments and initiatives need to make sure of the following:
•Employees receive needed training to use systems effectively and trouble shoot problems.
•Systems and processes support service reps and the needs of the customers.
•Employees understand how empowered they are to take action; that means how much time or money they can invest in helping the customer without fear of negative consequences.
•Employees know they will be held accountable for refusing to do what needs to be done. That means understanding expectations of leadership and the boundaries of required performance.
•Employees need to be recognized and rewarded for going above and beyond the call of duty in assisting customers.
•Employees need to be clear that their job is to help customers whether or not they “like” the customer. (This would not apply to abusive behavior from a customer—and what abusive behavior is needs to be defined and clear—but irritation, impatience and frustration are caused by the perceived problems a customer experiences. Teach employees to convert unhappy customers rather than condemn them.)
•Hiring should focus as much on attitude, service orientation and predisposition as the hard skills required to provide service. Attitudes rarely get better after hiring. Hire for those who already possess the soft skills necessary for customer care.
“I can’t” is customer service loyalty killer. Minimize the reasons why anyone on your team would use it when serving customers.