Hey, Where’s the Common Sense in Customer Service? – by Paul H. Simon

Since it clearly costs a lot more to attract a new customer than to retain one, and since social media has made it so much easier for a disgruntled customer to spread the (ill) word, why do so many companies get it wrong?

An absence of common sense, in my opinion.

Customer service doesn’t seem complicated. Too often, though, the rule book, fear of a precedent, or just plain unthinking responses prevail. In retail in particular, empowering front-line employees to use their brains is all that is often all that is needed to resolve sticky situations.

“If you handle a complaint badly or with a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude or, worse still, if you hide behind the ‘rule book’, you will lose that customer for good,” writes Jonathan Farrington, CEO and founder of Top Sales World. He points out that one unhappy customer tells 10 to 15 others about the experience. “If it’s really bad, they’ll tell the whole world.”

Customers aren’t always reasonable, myself included. Part of it is impatience in a fast-moving society characterized by smartphones that instantly connect customers with the world at large. However, that’s not necessarily a reason to reject your requests.

“Customers have changed, and customer expectations have greatly changed!” says Becky Carroll, author of The Hidden Power of Your Customers: Four Keys to Growing Your Business From Existing Customers. “Social media has put everything into a new light as empowered customers are taking up their mobile phones and tweeting their distress for all the world to see.”

Outstanding customer service is a byproduct of clearly understanding the customer experience, of simply putting yourself in the customer’s place. Seeing things through the customer lens goes a long way toward understanding what frustrates them – no matter how trivial the matter may seem.

It could be a company’s refusal to take responsibility for a screw-up. Remember musician Dave Carroll and his United Breaks Guitars saga? Instead of owning up at the outset to breaking his prized instrument and arranging reimbursement, the airline suffered a ton of grief – and lowered earnings – by stonewalling.

More commonly, it’s the little things. Why not open a second line when the single checking line is full of irritated customers? How about refunding the purchase price of a product even if the guaranteed 30-day return ended two days ago or honoring that coupon that expired last week? These minor decisions on the fly in favor of the customer cost little and return a lot more in goodwill that will bring people back.

As Bob Thompson of CustomerThink points out in his new e-book How Customer-Centric Leaders Empower Employees to Drive Customer Value,things that happen that can’t be anticipated are where employees that have authority to act can be a tremendous asset:

“At Southwest Airlines, for instance, leaders believe that employees should use their own good judgment handling passenger situations,” he wrote. “And for the most part, they do. It’s one reason that Southwest has been leading the airline industry in customer loyalty for the past 18 years.”

I recently read an instructive article on OpenForum.com called “Why Gen Y-ers Are Better at Customer Service” that observed a change in the value of great customer service in the post-recession economy. Unfortunately, the article no longer is available; however I did capture its key message.

“With geographical advantage largely obliterated in today’s world,” it said, customer service has become the “only sustainable competitive advantage. It is the only proven way to ensure long-term profitability for your business.”

Business, take heed! Keeping the customers you have is just as important, if not more so, than acquiring new ones. They can become the loyal advocates and evangelists that are the rocket fuel of your growth and success.


Paul Simon is a website content curator, editor, online community manager and webinar host just waiting to meet you. Reach him at paul@sharpercontent.com, follow him on Twitter at @PaulContentMan, or connect with him on LinkedIn.


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