Customer Service: Attainable Ideal or Cunning Oxymoron?

Published on 7 September 2016 at 3:57 pm #businessskillscourses #customerservicecourses #customerservicetraining #improvisation #influencingskills #negotiationskills

There's a great New Yorker cartoon which shows a man on a phone and the words are "Clemson here, how may I disappoint you?"

Oh dear. Poor Clemson. He doesn't have a clue.

Poor us! We, most of us, have had dealings with the Clemson's of this world at some point or another. Whether it's pressing 22 numbers on our push-button phones in vain search of a human voice, or being passed from one uninformed person to another, or being given information by a person who never draws breath, our chances are mighty high we're going to be disappointed.

Or frustrated. Or angry. Or all three.
Indeed, in some organisations, the term customer service seems to be a kind of perverse oxymoron.
The good thing is that the pendulum does appear to be swinging in our - the customers' - favour, albeit slowly. For years, companies invested in technology as the answers to efficiency, cost savings, value.

Nothing wrong with technology.

Except technology doesn't do people. And customers are people. Sometimes unreasonable, often difficult, but still, people.

We're just glad that more and more companies are recognising that if their staff's customer-facing (or telephony) skills are up to par (or beyond) they have a far better chance of pleasing and retaining their customers.

We rely more and more on technology in our daily lives, yet in an odd way, our expectations around customer service are higher than ever. If we can buy or book on-line instantly, we now want our queries or complaints dealt with instantly as well. We want phones answered within three rings, we don't want to be put on hold (too bad Vivaldi isn't alive - he'd make a fortune in royalties for The Four Seasons), and we most definitely don't want to be phoned back because we doubt we ever will.

Much like sitting around swapping real-estate stories, we're now all collecting our most frustrating day spent on the phone (waiting for a delivery, etc) stories as well.

The Council offices that want to pass you on to someone else so quickly you've barely had time to say your name. Or the washing machine repairman who doesn't have the one spare part needed and drives off never to be seen again. Or the day you stayed home from work to wait for your new sofa and you're waiting still. Or the phone agent who keeps telling you to calm down when the last thing you are is calm and being told to do so isn't helping.

Actually, aren't there times when you feel you're doing other people's jobs for them? Making phone calls to chase people to try to get them to do what you're paying them to do?
The sad thing these days is that we get surprised when service is good.

And some customer service is incredibly good. People who want to engage with you and make an effort to connect with you as someone they want to serve as opposed to a problem they want to get rid of. People who are cheerful, empathetic, knowledgeable and will go the 'extra mile' if that's what it takes to get a result.


Here's a little exercise you can try which we think is a fun one. Make a list of all the places, shops, restaurants, holiday destinations, service providers, brands that you return to time and again and next to each one give a key reason.

How do they make you feel special?
Do they know your name (or at least pronounce it correctly)?
Do they really listen to you?
Are the waiters efficient and friendly but not over the top?
Or maybe you like over the top!
Are you made to feel welcome?
Do you forgive them their mistakes?
Do you get that indefinable extra?

We all have reasons for liking something or someone or some place. They don't have to be logical or make sense to anyone else. We worked with someone years ago who, when we did this exercise, said there was one Greek restaurant he always went back to. Not because the food was any better than another Greek restaurant near-by (indeed it was probably worse), but because on Friday nights he got to smash plates and dance around.

You may be someone who avoids smashing plates and dancing around, which is why we say that everyone's reasons for liking a place or returning will be different.
So, see if you have any really quirky, plate-smashing reasons why you go back. Is it because 'everybody knows your name' or no one does? Is it because they'll get you talking about your favourite football team within a minute of the conversation? Is it because they support your favourite charity or arts organisation?

Or is it simply because, when you phone or show up in person, you really feel taken care of and that your business (large or small) counts?

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory.

Check out Impact Factory's Customer Service course.