Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Customer Service and the Golden Rule

By Erica Mancuso

Treating others as you would want to be treated is a practice of empathy.  The golden rule is such a simple, timeless principle, and yet I’m constantly amazed at how little it’s practiced any more. On my recent family vacation, I encountered two situations where simply putting this into practice would have resulted in entirely different outcomes.

First, my family’s luggage didn’t make the connecting flight. No big deal, I understand this happens.  The situation required my patience, as well as clear communication from the airline. Unfortunately, the airline didn’t deliver. Facing a 7-hour drive to my remote destination, I just wanted to know when to expect the luggage or whether I should hit a store prior to departing. I never got an answer and in fact, each airline rep I spoke with gave a wildly different and equally confusing update. None listened to me or understood my growing frustration. Instead, they regurgitated company policy supporting their claim about why the prior person told me wrong. Frankly, I didn’t care which employee was right – I just wanted to know when I might see my luggage again.

Second, I reserved a mid-sized SUV for the trek, but was shocked when the rental car company gave me what the manufacturer describes as a “sub-compact crossover”. The trunk barely fit 4 small backpacks and certainly wouldn’t accommodate my family’s lost suitcases when they arrived. I requested an upgrade immediately, but the busy counter agent brushed me off by confirming I was driving the vehicle I reserved. Apparently, it was a mid-sized SUV per their system. I heard more of the same when I called customer service and the rep tried to convince me tiny car was a mid-sized SUV.  She ignored my repeated requests for an upgrade and seemed more concerned about being right instead of helping me find a different vehicle. All I needed was a car that would meet my needs – and I was willing to pay for an upgrade. Frustrated by the difficulty, I promptly returned the car and found another company that had both a larger vehicle and better service.

While both situations could have been resolved easily, I was appalled at how complicated the reps made them because they didn’t take any time to think about how they would want the issue resolved if they were me.  I grew frustrated when each rep seemed more concerned about what they couldn’t do for me and why instead of what they could. Who wants to be treated like that? We all know it’s not very gratifying for a rep to deliver that kind of service. When issues arise, customers just want the issue resolved quickly and easily. Doing so requires the agent to listen with empathy to truly understand the problem and think about how they would want the issue resolved.  With the rental car, the problem was the vehicle was simply too small for my family of 4. Had the agents listened to me and thought about how they would want to be treated in a similar situation, they would have quickly realized the simple solution: get the family a bigger vehicle. This would have saved everyone time, money, and some frustrated Tweets.

I genuinely believe each rep I spoke with had good intentions. Their companies may have made it more difficult for them with less-than-ideal processes and systems – ones that discourage empathy and restrict the application of golden rule. Maybe these companies measure and reward solved tickets instead of solved problems. What harm would have come if the rental car reps tried to find me a suitable alternative, or if the airline just told me the truth about my bags? We would all win. Companies, employees, and customers all stand to benefit by practicing empathy and the golden rule.

Why should we treat others the way we want to be treated?

  • It’s contagious!  Kindness and empathy beget kindness and empathy. When you practice the golden rule, not only will you feel happier, but co-workers and customers will treat you and others better as well. Who wouldn’t want that?  Fewer unhappy customers and grouchy coworkers?  Yes, please!
  • You’ll build trust. Every single time you treat a customer like you want to be treated, you will earn that customer’s respect, causing your business’ reputation will grow.
  • You’ll improve teamwork. One of my favorite Henry Ford quotes is “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”  This is a pillar on which a strong team is built. When you have a strong team, you have happier employees, and we all know that happier employees lead to happier customers.
  • You’ll drive customer loyalty. Per an article in Entrepreneur, “Treat your customers right and they’ll be happier, more likely to come back -- and more inclined to recommend you to friends and family.”  Enough said!
  • The karma factor. Aside from it being the decent thing to do, there are often longer-term rewards in store for those who consistently put the golden rule into practice. Try it and see what happens.

The golden rule isn’t going to give all the answers, and it’s not a concrete moral guide. It’s simply a guiding principle that will help your team practice empathy and better understand what impact actions have on the lives of others. I challenge you to put this rule into practice in your contact center. Have your employees imagine themselves on the receiving end of an action, in the place of another person. It should be all about the customer, instead of some absurd metric or company policy.  Like the Ritz-Carlton believes, we are ladies and gentlemen helping ladies and gentlemen.  Let’s treat each other that way and watch the outcomes change. If everyone behaved this way, don’t you think the world be a better place?

Erica has over 15 years of experience building and leading customer facing teams for entrepreneurial software companies. In her current role as Director of Customer Success at Straightaway Health Careers, she is establishing all client facing programs, including implementation, support, and customer success. Outside of work, Erica is busy training for the Chicago Marathon and enjoys traveling, good food, and being active with her family.

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