Referring Customers - An Important Part of Customer Service by Robert Bacal

When customers are referred to other members within an organization, they can feel frustrated and perhaps even become hostile if they feel they are getting the "run around". Read on for some great tips on handling the referral process so that your customer keeps on coming back.

If you deal at all with the public, it is probably a rare day when you don't have to refer a customer elsewhere for service. It may be that the person is in the wrong place, or the person is required to see several people in sequence and you are the first. Sometimes, the customer's issue needs to be dealt with by someone with a different authority level, such as a supervisor or manager.

It is a reality of business that some referring is necessary. Unfortunately, a common complaint on the part of members of the public is that they tend to be shuffled from person to person within the same company. On occasion one hears of situations where a person is moved from one person to another until he or she ends up back at the first person that was contacted.

Members of the public may have come to expect this "shuffle of referral", but many times they prepare for it by behaving in a hostile manner towards you, even though, you may have never met. One common complaint that employees have is that when customers are referred to them, they are not given the information to appear informed and helpful to the customer. It can be embarrassing.

We are going to look at some ideas you can apply to help reduce customer frustration, and make the jobs of others a bit easier. Hopefully, others can do the same for you.


Do everything practical to ensure that the customer does not have to repeat his or her story to the next person.

When transferring a phone call to another staff member, make every effort to "fill in" that member about the particulars of the problem. Some phone systems allow conferencing, so you can have a brief 3-way conversation, to introduce the customer to the staff member.

Keep a list of names and phone numbers of other government employees to whom you might refer clients. You probably have a pretty good idea of the kinds of services your clients might need, so it is a good idea to learn a bit about who supplies those services. If possible, make personal contact with those people, and find out how they can help your customers.

Keep in mind that hostile customers may be best calmed down by referring to a supervisor. We know that people tend to behave less aggressively when they speak to a supervisor, regardless of level in the organization. However, you and your supervisor need to be clear when customers should be referred, and how they should be referred (e.g. number given, escorted to supervisor's office, supervisor calls customer, etc.)

Again, when referring to a supervisor, make sure the supervisor is aware of the problem, and the emotional state of the customer (hostile, angry, threatening, etc).

When referring to another member of your immediate organization, try to give some choices to the customer. For example, suggest that the person can take a seat for a moment, or offer to take the customer's phone number for a call back. Let the customer choose. It reduces hostility.

Before referring, make sure you understand the customer's situation and what he or she wants. A major error that employees make is to not listen well, or, not ask the right questions, and assume that a referral is in order. Good listening skills are important. If they are not applied, what can happen is that the customer is referred to the wrong place or person, resulting in frustration for everybody.

When referring, try to tell the person how long the wait will be, or what to expect. If there is a procedure to be followed, explain it if necessary. If the wait is longer than expected, make the effort to tell the customer (and apologize).
In conclusion

It is the little things that make the difference. Keep in mind that when referring you are trying to:

  • reduce the need for the customer to repeat his or her story from the beginning
  • show the customer that you are making an effort to reduce his or her frustration
  • reduce waiting
  • appear knowledgeable by referring to the correct place the first time.

About Company

Bacal & Associates is a small training, consulting and publishing company specializing in government. Founded in 1992, we have been serving government training and consulting needs for 22 years. We focus on customer service, communication, performance management, and other management challenges within hte public sector.

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