It is far easier to relate to customers when you have something to bring to the table. It is far more difficult to communicate when you have nothing to offer, or are powerless to change the situation.
Given this situation the magnitude of the problem can quickly increase. The obvious resolution is still by empowerment, but there are instances where empowerment will have no effect whatsoever. In such instances the best policy is absolute and total openness. Your approach to the customer must be transparent, and you must be honest about your inability to rectify the situation.
The customer will most likely be more forgiving when exposed to this level of transparency. The most effective communication, in this instance, would be to state at the outset that there is nothing that you personally, or the organization as a whole, can do to remedy the situation at present. Show empathy towards the customers for the inconvenience that is being caused to them. Show concern to them where possible.
Research whether there are other agencies that can help, or whether there are phone numbers that people can use. Assist, wherever possible, in procuring for the customer outside help and make it readily available to them if possible. Even though you may be powerless to rectify a service failing, you still have the ability to present the organization in a positive and efficient manner. While it may not be necessary to assume total responsibility, it is imperative to accept responsibility for the elements for which you are responsible. This falls under the umbrella of transparency and openness, which must be forthcoming from the entire organization, not just individuals.
This is a clear example of the need for a strategy agreed at board level that can be implemented at any given point when a service failing is identified, and the organization is powerless to deal with it. An example of this: after a bout of severe weather, a complete power failure occurs because overhead cables have been damaged. In this instance, the energy company is unable to restore normal service and cannot offer clients anything other than empathy. It is really important that the weather be cited as the cause, but it is also imperative that any CSR reassures customers that everything is being done to rectify the situation. This assurance has to have substance. It must never be a throwaway line.
A good CSR will explain that there are however-many teams working on it (and be specific), and will offer a realistic estimated time of restoration of service and be precise about all information provided. The client will remember this high service level and will feel that they have been dealt with as an individual and also as an important customer. The CSR, in these instances, must have access to information such as emergency numbers, national floodline, traffic information, and so forth. While the CSR is powerless throughout the communication in terms of rectifying the service faults, they are never really powerless in terms of being able to offer advice and help to customers. The more thought that is given to a possible situation arising, the sooner and more comprehensively can the organization reduce the damage to its reputation.