The Customer is Bothering Me

I just finished reading Shelle Rose Charvet's book, The Customer is Bothering Me, an insightful read about customer service. Shelle suggests that every country and company has a customer service "philosophy" that affects its success. 

Country Philosophies 

Shelle identifies a few country philosophies:

"The Customer is Bothering Me"
"The Customer is Wrong"
United States
"The Customer is a spaced-out preschooler who will not listen."

Living in Canada, Shelle even goes so far as to test this attitude when she calls customer service for phone, TV or whatever. She begins by saying: "I'm sorry to bother you..." By doing so, she aligns with the customer service reps internal beliefs and values, and Shelle gets better service

I'm wondering if, in America, we should preface our calls by saying: "This may sound silly..." or "Maybe I didn't understand the instructions..." 

Company Philosophies
Each company has a customer service philosophy. Shelle says all you have to do is observe with an objective mindset. How do employee's behave with customers? What set of beliefs and values (i.e., philosophy) must they have to behave this way? 

My wife and I like to eat breakfast once in a while at Gunther Toody's. It's a playful, 50's place with rock music, but sometimes the wait staff get so caught up in being playful that they forget they've got customers. One day I got up and refilled my coffee (third cup). The cook took the waiter to task and we got a free meal out of it. 

It's almost as if they believe that customers only need two cups of coffee. 

What's your company philosophy about how to handle customers?
How does it need to change to maximize customer retention? 

Handling Angry Customers
Shelle has some excellent advice for handling outraged customers: get upset on their behalf

Shelle notes that most customer service training teaches reps to be calm in the face of a customer storm. Wrong! It's disrespectful. It breaks rapport. It sends the message that "you don't care." 

What do you do instead? Match the customer's tone and tempo, get upset on their behalf: "What? I can't believe that happened!" Then start to calm down: "Let me see what I can do about that right now!" Use "I" instead of "we" because it shows that you are personally going to take care of the customer. 

Customers want you to "break all the rules" to solve their problem fast. They don't want a script read back to them. They don't want a procedure to follow.Break the rules. Solve their problem. 

Shelle has simple, step-by-step processes for handling angry customers and for letting the customer down gently when you can't meet their demands. I encourage you to read her book to find out how. 

Hiring the Right Customer Service Personnel
Once you've chosen a service philosophy, you can use the motivation language and questions to hire just the right kind of people to fill those jobs. A good customer service person needs to:

  • Value people and relationships (otherwise no repeat business)
  • Think about the customer's request then do what needs to be done (Thinker-Doer)
  • Follow procedures and break the rules when needed (Processor-Innovator)

Written with these traits in mind, job ads can attract the right kind of applicant and repell the wrong kind. A job interview using the questions in theMotivate Everyone quick reference card can confirm the applicant's motivation style. 

Here's My Point
As Shelle so elegantly describes in her new book, any person-to-person interaction can be examined and optimized using motivation styles. It's an easy way to improve your business results and one that so few people have tried. So figure out your company's philosophy toward customer service. Figure out your own personal strategy. Does it match the results you're trying to achieve as a business? If not, what are you going to do to change it? Haven't you waited long enough?

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008-2024 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, 888-468-1537, ."