I recently found myself on the receiving end of a recording that told me for the tenth time after being on hold for fifteen minutes that, “Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line and a representative will be with you shortly.” And then, after half an hour of waiting, and ten minutes of circular conversation that led to nowhere, when it became painfully clear that the “representative” was not going to be able to help me at all, and I was noticeably frustrated and about to hang up, she finalized our exchange with the following question in a scripted sing-songy voice, “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
It made me want to scream. Where had she been for the previous ten minutes? Wasn’t it clear to her that she could not, in fact, help me? Where was the humanity? Where was the empathy? Where was the acknowledgment that what had transpired had just transpired?
And I’m quite certain that my experience was not unique. In a wide range of customer service scenarios, this brick wall kind of result happens frequently- so much so, in fact, that it has become a kind of cultural joke that we can all laugh about and relate to, but there’s a missed opportunity here, and a chance to amaze and delight customers that have been tragically lost.
At the root of all great customer service are three key principles, seems to me, and none of them particularly complex: authenticity, empathy, and integrity. We experience these at the L.L. Beans of the world, and The Ritz Carlton’s. These companies, and others like them, allow us our dignity as human beings. They make us feel cared about. They make us feel seen and heard.
So how can these principles be applied across the board as the rule instead of the exception?
It starts at the level of the employee experience. As employees are seen and heard, valued, engaged, acknowledged, and appreciated, so too will the customers.
So how do we do that?
When interacting with another, whether customer or employee, genuinely listen for understanding. Be present. Acknowledge what’s being said or implied and mirror their concerns and needs back to them. Don’t give them some rote, scripted response, but customize the script to the situation, if you have to use a script at all. Take your time- no one likes to be rushed- and most of all, be yourself. If you have concerns or needs in the situation or something you’d like to suggest, speak up- not aggressively, but with compassion and a desire to connect. All authentic exchange is based on our shared humanity- that we are one and the same, not at odds, or as some kind of burden to each other, but interested in working together to create a sense of mutual respect and a shared positive outcome.
Make it your goal to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. Instead of defending or attacking, validate their position, and be sincere in appreciating where they’re coming from. Whatever their issue, it’s real to them. Make it your goal to be responsive instead of reactive, and to truly care.
Avoid mixed messages. In the example above, the recording said my call was important, but keeping me waiting endlessly showed that clearly it was not, so “thank you for your patience” would have been more accurate. Nothing destroys trust like a lack of integrity. We must be scrupulous about promising only the things we are able to deliver and follow through on whatever we promise. On this point, employee engagement in the company message is critical. Whatever we present to the world as a core value, we must honor and exemplify, across the board with no exceptions, and when we fall short, acknowledge that immediately. Otherwise, we lack integrity, employees lose interest, and customer service suffers.
Exceptional customer service isn’t rocket science. It’s attention to detail and interest in actually being of service, in any way we can, to whoever is in front of us. It’s remembering that we are human beings interacting with human beings, that we are emotional, and that we want to be acknowledged and respected and listened to and understood.
How we begin and end each interaction is the lasting impression we leave, so having integrity with our message and our delivery, being friendly and polite, consistent, authentic, and empathetic with both our employees andour customers is the ticket to customer satisfaction and the key to ongoing success.
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