• What Parenting Can Teach You About Customer Service

    Tue, 13 Oct 2015, in Customers

    For one, I am surprised that the phrase “the customer is always right” is still being used.

    What Parenting Can Teach You About Customer Servicephoto credit Rachel Kramer

    Sure, it is associated with helping and giving – which are character strengths, especially in customer service.

    But sometimes our helpful intentions (as my granddad used to say) can give way to a generation full of brats.

    The reasoning behind this phrase is that exceptional customer service meant leaving every customer satisfied and everyone in the organization should strive to that standard. It would be a great concept to grasp if there weren’t so many negative or just plain unremarkable customer service encounters we see on a day-to-day basis.

    Whether it’s an uncooperative employee at the DMV, the unsympathetic telecom rep over the phone or a careless teenager at the grocery store, it seems as though we’ve long accepted and learned to live with poor service every day.

    But what does customer service have to do with parenting?

    Being a customer is a natural part of our lives, akin to parenting. For many of us who experienced parenthood, we may draw parallels between customer service and child-rearing. Not everyone would agree with my analogy (possibly because I’m comparing customers to children) but just like there are different styles of parenting, there are different ways to support customers.

    Everyone wants the best for their children but it doesn’t come across the same way for everyone. Certain parents lend an ear and are available whenever humanely possible. Others don’t have the time, but throw money at their children because it’s easier. Others still unfortunately abandon their children when they’re most vulnerable.

    Good customer service is a lot more than just pandering to a customer’s self-interest. It’s akin to a calibrated machine on an assembly line: it’s doing the same task consistently without fail. It doesn’t give more candy when asked for, or reward anyone throwing a tantrum.

    Good customer service is like good parenting: you don’t notice it

    At the same time, companies that think their support needs to be cheap and quick to survive are setting themselves up for failure not only with their customers but also as a business. In the parenting sense, it’s like hiring an babysitter unqualified for the job when you’re never at home, knowing that she’s likely not take the extra step in listening and giving your child the attention it deserves.

    It’s hard to be perfect

    There’s a reason why people trust small businesses more than large corporations. The support team tends to treat you as a human being and don’t read off a policy book when talking to you. It seems like small businesses are friendlier, more helpful, skilled and they genuinely care about you. Why is it that we don’t see larger companies take the same approach? After all, they have much more resources at their disposal such as a larger team and community tools.

    Comcast has one of the worst track records for customer service. They get a bad rap for being inconsistent due to their size and the nature of the industry. Since Comcast employs so many people at different levels, reaching a different support rep can mean widely different answers. This leaves customers confused and disappointed.

    As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Large corporations often fall to the detriment of inconsistency, such as airlines or internet providers. Of course, we can count on Zappos and Amazon as diamonds in the rough, with the latter being recently accused of inhumane workplace practices.

    It’s hard to be perfect company, just like it’s hard to be a perfect parent.

    But just how poisonous to your customers is inconsistent behavior in support?

    It rewards customers for bad behavior

    As marketers and salespeople, we can be accused of twisting the facts and making up “information” to make our products look good. However, some customers will have unrealistic expectations no matter what we do. The reason is they aren’t always sure what they really want or expect out of your product. We constantly hear demands such as “I want this same phone but in lime green color” or “I thought the fertilizer you sold me would kill all the weeds in 24 hours!” As customer service specialists, our job isn’t to fulfill every request blindly but to inform and solve problems instead.

    It trains your good customers to question your ability

    By rewarding those who scream the loudest, you show that you don’t value your long-time customer’s loyalty and prefer to make unfair decisions on a whim.  If your support is inconsistent, your good customers will start doubting your expertise and leave you for a competitor.

    It humiliates your company and support staff

    When you treat one customer better than the other for arbitrary reasons, your support agents lose all credibility and respect. Your staff is at the mercy of the demanding customer, who will stop at nothing – costing your company money. Besides, your team is your most valuable resource and subjecting them to abuse can undoubtedly trickle the negativity through the rest of your organization.  

    It’s not scalable or sustainable

    While catering to bratty customers may receive a temporary boost in customer satisfaction, your company is likely be tainted by a poor image as word of your actions spreads. Think of a customer telling their friends, “I got money back on my credit while my friend didn’t. These guys probably made a mistake!” This statement cannot possibly show your brand in a positive light regardless of who hears it.

    All good things come to an end

    When children cease to be children (they enter the teenage years) they usually take up work involving some degree of customer service – in a fast food or restaurant, for example. More often than not, they usually pick up that the better they treat customers, the better they’re treated in return. Your customer, by comparison, goes through a similar transformation. They become brand advocates, clearly understanding the pluses of your product and willing to sway public opinion on your behalf.

    Although it’s important for businesses and professionals to help one another in embracing the customer-centric mindset, it’s important not to get carried away with your rouge customer base. If all else fails, just ask yourself: what would a parent do? 

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