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Win more by playing for your customer's team

One of the best ways to stay at the top of your customer service game is to always keep in mind the philosophical distinction between who signs your paychecks and where they come from. Of course your company is your employer, but as we all (hopefully) know, customers pay your wages. No customers, no job.

Assuming most employees know and understand this, why then do so many still play defense for their companies, rather than helping the customer win?

When everything is available anywhere, any time and at almost any price, superior service is the last frontier of differentiation. If you don’t recognize that already, get onboard — survey says, customers believe that most companies are failing in this area. Most cite the many technological barriers that stand in the way of quality service and human interaction: Companies put in bleeding-edge systems in the name of theoretical efficiency, and pay the price in loss of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

What this really boils down to, though, is the question, “whose side are you on, anyway?” No matter what motivation, mission or benefit they claim, companies employing systems, processes and policies that do not satisfy customers are, by definition, acting in the interest of the business. In a perfect world, the interests of the business would be in perfect alignment with those of the customer, but that is unfortunately rarely the case.

As a result, the people and companies that win the service game usually do so by playing on the customer’s team, as follows:

They remember that business is barter: All business has its origins in simple barter – one person giving something of value to receive something of value from another. The goal of simple barter was an equitable, mutually-beneficial transaction. Somewhere along the way, for many reasons, it got lopsided -- customers and companies stopped acting in harmonic interest. But enlightened service stars don’t lose sight of the fundamentals -- they appreciate that the customer is giving something of value (the money that pays their wages), and that they are expected to give something of theoretically equal value – goods and service – in return. Simplistic though it may sound, the companies and people who get that always do better.

They make it immediately clear that they are on the customer’s side: As I’ve said in past articles, get as quickly as you can to the part where you help. And then, unless you have a really good reason not to, jump immediately to the customer’s bench. Think and act as if you are on the same side of the phone or email exchange as she is -- as if the two of you are talking to the company together. In unclear situations, the benefit of the doubt should always start with the customer. Get your mind around the concept of representing your customer and helping your company by acting in her interest.

They use language that demonstrates their advocacy: The language of customer service is one of nuance. There’s a big difference between saying “who’s next?” and “hello, how can I help you?” And language can either make your customer feel that you’re on his side or that he should ready himself for an adversarial interaction. There’s nothing wrong with saying “sorry for the inconvenience,” but it’s usually a pat, half-hearted throwaway. Try something like “I don’t blame you for being frustrated, I would be too” (and mean it). Rather than saying “you entered your information wrong on the form,” say “looks like the information needs to be corrected, let me get that fixed.” Speak in a way that tells the customer “I’ve got your back.” Everyone loves to know that.

They share the customer’s happiness when an issue is resolved: I love it when a company representative genuinely shares my feelings (and we all know what genuine sounds like) at the outcome of a service interaction. When the person at the other end says, “I’m so glad we were able to get that fixed,” and I can hear him smiling, I know he really wanted to help me and feels great that he did. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s like the moment in "The Wizard of Oz" when the film changes from black and white to color. Wondrous.

To be sure, some companies make it systemically or culturally difficult for their people to behave this way (I’m reminded of that in comments by frustrated employees every time I write on the subject.) Many operate from a defensive posture, “protecting themselves” from customers rather than risking the vulnerability of taking their side (I’m also reminded by some commenters of how terrible some customers can be. That’s too bad, on several levels.) The idea of going to bat for the customer is threatening or intimidating to those businesses, and odds are they’re the ones you’ll find on the wrong side of the satisfaction surveys.

Not every customer is right, not every interaction is easy or ideal. But team up with a customer whenever you can, and everyone’s more likely to win.

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