Customer Service is More Perception, Less Reality
There are many unanswered questions when it comes to understanding how our minds work.
One thing we’re not sure about is how our brain processes information that’s fed into it. What we understand to be true is based on what’s provided by our 5 senses and interpreted by our brain – thereby helping us clear up some confusion in the world around us.
Yet sometimes there’s a difference between what we perceive to be true and what’s actually true. This affects how we interact with each other and go about our daily lives.
How we perceive what we see
Tyoram Bonneh from the Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco performed an experiment in which a swirling pattern was shown to his test subjects. This was done to determine whether the subjects’ brains would selectively block out what the eye sees.
The image features three dots which do not change, but looking at the dot in the center causes the other dots to appear to blink – sometimes even disappearing from the screen completely.
Scientists have identified this phenomenon as motion induced blindness, since they believe it’s our brain’s way of eliminating information it considers unimportant (as well as free up space for what’s important).
Scientists also think this phenomenon is common enough to occur regularly without us realizing it. Think of the green dot as taillights you’re following at night. Other cars in your peripheral vision could literally disappear because the one right in front has your fullest attention (definitely an evil trick for our brains to play on us).
This biological curse can apply to other aspects of our lives. For example, how accurately can we gauge a customer’s feelings towards our brand or product? Do we account for limitations our brains place on our decision-making ability?
How we perceive actions
Let’s consider a busy bank branch. There are three service stations with three tellers, but only one is accepting customers.
photo credit US Bank Supply
It isn’t hard to imagine what the customers in line may be thinking. They aren’t thinking about how hard the first teller is working. They are looking at the other tellers and wondering, “What are they doing that’s so important?” Without a proper explanation by the bank, customers are left to their own devices to come to their own conclusions.When people understand the work gone into a product, they tend to value it more, and vice versa.
We like to do things ourselves. We prefer to assemble furniture from Ikea and attach sentimental value to DIY projects. We want a product which fits our needs right there and then and do exactly what we imagine it to.
Some time ago, I ran into a former classmate of mine. The man is a sought-after plumber who is able to tackle the most complex jobs with ease. It wasn’t always like this, however. When he started out, he would mix up his work orders, arrive with the wrong tools and took an excessive amount of time on each job.
As time went on, he improved and was able to fix these and other problems in a matter of minutes.
Yet many of his customers were happier when he was a rookie and made mistakes!
His new customers were particularly concerned when he handed them the bill. Despite his work being top notch, it seemed like he barely did any!When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all. – Futurama
This isn’t to say that the plumber should decrease the quality of his work – not at all. But matching reality (difficulty of work) to perception (effort being put in) sometimes helps the customer see the business in a more favorable light.
How we perceive words
What we might piece together during a conversation does not always correlate to reality. We may feel and do things that may surprise or appear off-putting to our customers. How do we manage this discord between what a client thinks and what’s actually happening?
Using a wrong word could result in a slew of misunderstandings. All too often, we lament and dwell on the fact that our client misinterpreted a phone call, email or any other type of interaction.
Most of the time, they’re honest mistakes: we forget to include information, come off a little too sarcastic or rude. At the same time, we need to remember that much more than our spoken words are augmented and reinterpreted by the person we’re talking to.
And it takes a lot more than getting into the habit of clicking “F7” to call up Outlook’s spell checker before sending off your message.
Still, this does nothing to prevent you from selecting words that may have negative connotations (which can be taken the wrong way by the receiving party).
At the end of the day, perception is all we go by when creating our realities. During customer interactions, you must understand that your point of view must align with theirs if you want to offer any kind of assistance to your customer.
How we perceive thoughts
Many of us like to think that the customer is always right, but it’s proven to be a long-standing fallacy. What’s not getting nearly enough attention is making them feel like they’re right.
That’s because customer service isn’t just about a quick response to an email. It’s about matching the customers’ request to the correct answer in the correct manner:
- Pick the right communication channel. Sometimes a phone call is what’s needed, sometimes that information should be on your website or in a knowledge base article. Your channel choice should be based on the type of request, customer’s mood, urgency, etc.
- Practice re-reading your emails. By getting into the habit of re-reading emails and submitting them at a later date, you’ll be able to see phrases and wording that you may not want to convey. By keeping emails saved in draft form before sumbitting them, you can reply later or move them elsewhere for later review.
- Close the communication loop. Get in the habit of collecting, sorting and responding to customer feedback in real time (or within a specific period). Closing the feedback loop not only keeps accountability among team members, it shows your customers that you value their time and input.
The importance of planning for disaster
Customers will always have issues regarding your product. However, it’s important to be able to recognize and solve these issues to the best of your ability, particularly if they arise as a result of inadvertent action or misunderstanding.Failing to plan is planning to fail. – Alan Lakein
While research claims we tend to sift through a number of possibilities when presented with an unfamiliar situation, the conclusion our brains reach vary according to factors beyond any of our control.Perception is all we go by when creating our realities.
Ask yourself this: Is it possible to present your product and company as truly unique? What about presenting your product in a perspective-altering way? Can you minimize mixed messaging? Your client’s perception is your reality and the sooner you recognize this the better off your business and customers will be.