Here are examples of two very different customer service cultures. Which would you prefer?
Let’s say you have to bring your car in for repair. The mechanic diagnoses the problem. Would you choose:
A) The shop where the mechanic tells you: “This is a simple issue. We fix these all the time. It’s not going to be any problem at all. Your car will be good as new in a few hours. Just go about your business, and I’ll call you when it’s ready.”
B) The shop where the mechanic tells you, “Your car’s coolant system has three leaks in different hoses. The hoses are easy to access, and I have replacements in stock. It will take me two or three hours to replace the hoses and test them to be sure they are working. I’ll call you as soon as I’m done.”
If you’re like me, not only do you prefer option (B), but if you run into the mechanic in option (A), you’re likely not to come back (and maybe not even leave your car in the first place).
The reason is we don’t like to be dismissed, and we don’t like condescension. The mechanic in option (A) was condescending and a bit insulting. She assumed we not only have no idea how our car works but that we don’t care to know and will trust her implicitly. The mechanic in option (B) showed respect for our knowledge, ownership of the car, and likely, our time.
Is your company’s customer service insulting your customers without even knowing it?
I’ll give you another example of good and bad customer service. Recently, I contacted technical support for two different software products. Both are websites that run SaaS products. Both issues were simple ones that required little explanation and should have been easy to identify as issues (I can’t say how hard they would be to fix).
Company 1 responded like this:
We really appreciate you bringing us this kind of issue affecting our software’s performance. Rest assured our developers are fully aware of the changes and the glitches that occurred after the software update. They have made these adjustments their top priority to ensure our software is as stable as possible.
Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time.
Company 2 responded like this:
Thanks so much for writing in! This is a great question, not too odd at all! I’m afraid there isn’t a great solution for this at the moment. Sorry about that. We haven’t figured out a great way for it to know to re-look for the image and description if nothing shows up at first. Great idea though, and we definitely see the value of it.
Sorry I don’t have a better answer for you on that one. Is there anything else I can do to help or any questions I can answer?
I’m guessing you know which one I thought was well-done and which I thought was disingenuous
Company 1’s response is more troubling than just a dismissive response. It points to a customer service culture that assumes customers want reassurance and kind words above all else. It suggests that the company’s customer service protocol has guidelines or even templates that advance the idea that customers are to be dealt with and dismissed as quickly as possible.
This was reinforced after my follow-up question asking if they knew about the specific issue and might be working on it. I was told there are many issues on which the developers are working and that I could be certain they would be informed of this one. Further reinforcing the dismissive approach, five days later the company announced an update that resolved the specific issue. I have to assume someone there knew that this update was coming yet failed to communicate that to me.
Company 2’s response points to a customer service culture of openness and honesty. Telling me that there is “no great solution” admits the software has shortcomings and just can’t do everything all the time. This is true of all products of all kinds. Being direct about the limitations and aspirations of your product shows both honesty and confidence in your ability to deliver value to your customer.
My cultural assumptions were reinforced on follow-up exchanges, where I offered an idea for a solution, and an interesting discussion on how to best get the specific value I needed from the product ensued.
Evaluating customer service
Far too many companies evaluate the performance of technical support or customer service success on how quickly issues can be resolved and how friendly the language of the company’s representative is. Both of these measures lead the customer service teams to shorten their responses, use more reassuring and friendly (not honest and direct) language, and to be dismissive of customer issues in the hope they will accept answers such as those above from Company 1 and go away.
But customers are evolving the other way. Customers demand more details and honestly from companies, as well as more and more transparency.
In order to meet the needs of this evolving customer, companies must also change their customer service culture and the metrics that support it. For example, rather than measuring duration of interactions, you might measure how many interactions it takes for the customer to consider the issue resolved. You might also want to measure how much progress each interaction made toward resolving the issue (if it makes no progress, you are wasting time and angering your customer). Your metrics should always focus on what the customer perceives as progress and what your customer perceives as a resolution.
Is your company’s customer service culture dismissing and alienating your customers?
Try acting like a customer with a problem for a day, and go find out. Then tell us your story in the comments.