Three Tips for Setting the Stage for Superior Customer Service

What do you do when a customer calls or emails with a complaint? How much of their tone of voice do you let affect your response?

While how they approach you with their problem with your product/service shouldn’t matter that much, we know it does. This can be solved with regular vision-casting.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18 (NIV)

Remember back to your youth, when your room wasn’t clean.

How did your parents approach you about that issue?

Did they scream and yell at you to clean up your filthy room? Or did they take a calmer, more respectful approach? Maybe, at times, they tried several different approaches to see which had the best outcome.

Naturally your response can either escalate the atmosphere or move it towards a more desirable outcome.

Customer Service Rep

I subscribe to SUCCESS Magazine, and have for a couple of years now. I’ve loved every issue, and even more the audio CD’s that accompany each issue. If you don’t subscribe, you should strongly consider reading this great resource. Recently I was looking through the Apple Newsstand on my iPhone and came across the magazine’s digital content. I noticed that the cover of last month’s issue didn’t look familiar, so I tried to login and download the digital issue to my iPhone.

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

My access wouldn’t work.

I promptly emailed their support team with two questions: One, what happened to my February 2013 issue- I never received it. Two, how do I get access to the digital content? I was polite of course, as you get more flies with honey than with vinegar, and hoped for the best.

Imagine my surprise when less than an hour later my inbox alerted me to a response from the Customer Service team at SUCCESS. Their response, quoted for posterity:

Dear Paul,

Thank you for choosing SUCCESS Magazine! I apologize you did not receive your February 2013 issue. Your issue did ship out successfully and was not returned undeliverable by the postal system, so it may have been lost in the mail. I mailed out a replacement issue immediately and you should receive it in the next 3-5 business days.

I apologize for your difficulty with your digital subscription. I reset your log in information and this should help to refresh your account. You will receive a log in email shortly. I was able to log in successfully with your information to digital.success.com. Please download the SUCCESS app through your newsstand and you will be prompted to subscribe or log in. Please log in with the information you receive via email.

Please let me know if you have further questions. Thank you for your support and have a great day!

Best Regards,
Kerrianne
Customer Service

Wow. A quick search through their records turned up that I had been mailed the copy, and it should have arrived. Many companies would stop there and say “We sent it to you. It’s not our fault you didn’t receive it. Better luck next time!”

They might even be thinking, ‘this customer’s just trying to steal another copy from us. They’ll ruin us if we let them get away with this! We’d better put a stop to it right away. He probably works for the competition, too.’ We could go on and on with all the paranoid, selfish thoughts any number of companies might have about this incident.

I couldn’t believe that this company that makes their money selling physical goods was about to give one away for free. I’d always imagined that other companies operate with goodwill and a belief that people are inherently good (in fact, I try to operate this way in my business), but had never experienced it as a customer. I was blown away.

My response to Kerrianne was something like this:

Kerianne,

WOW, thanks for the incredible and responsive service! It’s not every day that a problem is solved as easily as it should be, you just rocked it though!

I see the other email has come through, and I’ll try logging in soon to verify connection.

Thanks again, and keep up the great and fantastic service!

To your success,

Paul Sidwell

And that was the end of it. Or so I thought. Within minutes, Kerrianne wrote back and said that she was grateful for the kind words, and to show her (and the organization’s) gratitude for my business, she had extended my subscription by a month. I don’t even know when my subscription is set to expire, because it’s set up on automatice renewal.

But that’s not the point. The point is that by approaching the problem with kind words, I was able to set the stage for a reasonable exceptional response.  I’m certainly not claiming that I manipulated their customer service team to my benefit; they provided the response.  All I did was set the stage for a respectful conversation, and it led to an exchange of kindness that’s unfortunately uncommon in most business settings.

This post is geared more toward how to approach a problem as a customer, but there are three lessons in here for businesses, too:

  1. Does your company have a culture of calm?  When a customer calls, does your team know to ‘kill them with kindness’?  Set the stage for superior customer service by teaching your staff to always respond kindly. The customer is NOT always right, but that doesn’t give license to mistreat them or to respond rudely. If there’s a legitimate complaint, view it as construction cones around your business: it still works, but it’s being renovated. Take time to really listen and understand the problem, as though it was your best friend that had the problem. Because in business, if you don’t treat every customer as though they were your bestie, they’re outta there. There are too many alternatives to being mistreated. Use this feedback to learn and grow.
  2. Are your team members empowered to solve problems, or do you keep a tight reign on their authority as an unnecessary measure of control in your organization?  Author and business expert Tim Ferriss share the story of how when his nutritional supplements company was growing he found himself inundated with calls from his customer support team.  He eventually decided to lengthen their leash, that is, he gave them authority to solve any customer’s problem as long as it cost less than $50.  As a result, he received fewer calls from his team about customer service issues.  Gradually he lengthened the rope even further, extending the amount to $100 and beyond for any problem that could be solved instantly.  By empowering his team to take care of increasingly greater problems, he gave them a sense of control that conveyed the above ‘sense of calm’ to their customers, and gradually increased not only profitability but also the amount of time Tim had to input directly into the business.  Win-win.  The free copy of the magazine that’s coming my way didn’t cost the publishers any extra money (they always print overruns- it’s a tricky business) but that’s not the point.  They gave something away they would rather charge money for, and by doing so they created a sense of goodwill that I am now sharing with you readers of my blog.
  3. When is the last time you had customer service training?  Customers have an uncanny sense of when a company is doing good things, and when they aren’t.  Casting a regular vision of what excellent customer service looks like in your company, and treating your employees like they are the lifeblood of your organization (hint: they are), you’ll develop a level of customer service that is unmatched by your competitors.  And as we all realize but often fail to act upon, it’s often the level of service provided by one company that sets it apart from its competitors, not the price.  Let me repeat that:  It’s often the level of service that you provide that truly sets you apart from your competitors, not the price.

One final question: What will you do with this information? How will you create a culture of compassionate customer service? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Thanks for reading.

And if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek.  If you’ve already read that one, though, check out Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership.