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Friday, April 1, 2016

It’s Complicated – Customer Service in 2016

It’s unusual for me to blog philosophically about this industry I love, customer service. But with recent world events, I am compelled to write something about the big picture of customer service.

Customer service can be boiled down into one word: relationships.

These relationships are circular, hierarchical, tangential, and in the end whether you give or receive exceptional customer service is really how two people feel about each other.  The two people are the customer, obviously, and the direct employee.

The old school of thought was, “The Customer is always right,” or “The Customer is king.”   This creates a hierarchy in the relationship, and I simply do not believe this is effective anymore.   Not that the customer's point of view isn't important, however current society is more egalitarian, and with this we operate more as peers.   When it is a peer situation, the ability to give serve others is a choice, not a job requirement.

Companies would be wise to help their employees understand this, respect it is their decision, and help them choose to do the right thing.  Serving others is highly rewarding, but it is the rewards of the heart that make it so.   Policies, mandates, and punishments, can be written until the end of time, but it isn’t until we choose to be different, do we consistently commit to do so.

Relationships in a Scary World

How are these relationships affected in this increasingly less colorblind world as we all become scared for our individual safety?  Once I believed we were on a new path of inclusion, but with recent events in Brussels, it will take dedication from us to continue on it.

I keep thinking how it will be now for the many millions of Muslims in the world, who are peace loving, but how will their service relationships continue?  I am talking simple everyday events like going to the grocery store, or calling the phone company.   Will the service professional simply not like them, and then that is the ruination of the relationship?

This is one statistic, and it is quite old 2006, "Civil rights complaints filed with one Muslim advocacy group rose from 366 in 2000 to 2,467 in 2006, an increase of 674%." (Read the entire article:  

I think of young black men in the US who walk into a store and the worst is assumed about them.  What kind of service are they receiving?   Don’t they deserve our best too?    What kind of service will they give based on these experiences?

We have to get beyond this.

Possible Solutions

I was taught early in my career to give Benefit of the Doubt.  It was even an acronym, BOTD.  This is difficult in most situations, especially when dealing with the unknown, and it is especially difficult when our deep biases pop into our heads.  It challenges even me, The Guru, at times.

As customer service professionals we must be better, and serve every customer equality or equitably.    

In training class, I show a picture of an elderly man, who looks agitated.  I ask, “Would you approach him?”   The answer is almost to a participant a loud and shocking verbal, “No!”  There is no BOTD.  Then I ask, “What if he has had a stroke, and that is the way he looks because he lacks muscle control?”   As soon as I say that, the mood the class changes from tension to compassion.

What if we could start with compassion instead of tension?

It’s Complicated 

Service in 2016 is not impossible.  I talk and work with many companies that do a great job.  Unfortunately, I talk to at least 3 times as many who do it poorly and don’t get it.  I think how we teach customer service and support it has to evolve.

If you want to deliver superior customer service, you have to be willing to dig deep and not only analyze your customers, but your employees as well.    Change the tone of the training conversation from, “You just have to do it because it is your job description,” to, “This is a chance to do something special for someone.”

Thanks for reading my random thoughts today.   Be safe and live well, wherever you are.