Good customer service—what is it?

Good customer service is not just the service provided by people with the title “Customer Service Representative.” Good customer service is something that we’re all responsible for—no matter what our job titles say.

For instance, suppose a customer calls you by mistake, or suppose, one of your co-workers accidentally forwards a customer call to you.  How would you feel, and how would you respond? Would you resent the caller for interrupting your work, say “sorry…you’ve called the wrong number,” and then hang up? Or, before you respond, would you put yourself in the customer’s shoes, and try to imagine what the customer is feeling and needing.

If you can put yourself in the customer’s shoes, you may realize that the service you provide is not just customer service; it’s simply service—in the way that we all want to receive it. And, a customer’s impression of service received may leave a lasting impression—good or bad.

At home, at work, or at play, we’re all in service to others—even ourselves. So, the next time you get a request for help—from yourself or from others—how will you respond?

Consent-based Decision Making: is it for you?

Most companies employ an autocratic form of decision making in which decisions are made at top levels and then carried out at lower levels. But, some companies are experimenting with consent-based decision making, which gives each employee an equal voice in a decision-making process.

Often modeled on Sociocratic principles, consent-based systems are effective because they build trust and respect by valuing each person’s contributions equally. Each decision is based on the consent of a group—not on the dictates of one person.

How does the Sociocratic method work in practice? Well, suppose your company employs the Agile method called SCRUM to develop software products. Following Agile, each team working on a product makes its own decisions about how to complete the product, and no one else (including managers or executives) can change their decisions.

If an Agile team were following sociocratic principles, its decision-making process might look like this:

1. One team member proposes a decision to the other team members.

2. A clarifying round occurs, during which each team member can ask questions—without interruptions, objections, reactions, or cross-talk from others.

3. A quick-reaction round occurs, during which each member can voice concerns or raise issues.

4. A consent round occurs, during which each member decides whether he can live with the proposal—not whether he agrees with all parts of the proposal, but whether he can tolerate it. If he can live with it, he consents to it.

To decide, each member considers whether the proposal is within his “range of tolerance.”  And, his decision should be based on reasoned considerations of all issues—not on specific preferences that are often colored with true/false, black/white, or right/wrong viewpoints.

After considering all the facts, if a member cannot consent to the proposal, he voices a “paramount objection” and then explains his reasons for objecting to it.  And, if just one member voices a paramount objection, then the proposal goes back to the member who proposed it for revision. Then, steps 2,3, and 4 are repeated until all members consent to the proposal.

Soothing Irate Customers with Empathy (Part 2)

If you’re feeling upset while serving an irate customer, first give yourself empathy.  Then, give the customer empathy.

First, take a time out to give yourself empathy. Excuse yourself from the customer by saying something like “Pardon me Mr. <X), but I need to step away for a moment. But, don’t worry, I’ll have another agent step in to help, and I’ll bring him up to speed on what we talked about before he steps in.” After you step away, find a quiet, comfortable place where you can relax and look inside yourself. Identify the feelings you have, for example frustration and resentment. Identify the needs supporting those feelings: ease (comfort), understanding, and respect. Then put the feelings and needs together—in an expression of empathy for yourself. For example, I feel frustrated, irritated, and resentful because I need ease, understanding, and respect.

Repeat this expression of empathy (silently or vocally) several times. And as you repeat it, notice your irritation and resentment subside.  This is the power of empathy.

Once you’ve given yourself enough empathy, then imagine what the customer might be feeling and needing. And, repeat this to yourself several times.

When you return to the customer, if he is still upset, try offering him the empathy you practiced earlier. And, stay with it until the customer’s anger subsides. Do not return to the purpose of the call until you’ve provided enough empathy. And, if you don’t know whether enough is enough, let the customer guide you. For instance, if you return to the purpose of the call and the customer is still angry, then give him more empathy. When you’ve provided enough, the customer will be able to focus again on the purpose of his call.

How to Give Empathy?

"If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends.
If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends."


Soothing Irate Customers with Empathy (Part 1)

Suppose you’re a customer service agent, and you get a call from a man who’s hopping mad. As he bellows to express his anger, you feel your heart beat faster, your chest tighten, and your temperature rise. You start to feel irritated—then angry and resentful—because his anger seems directed at you personally; yet, you know that you’re not responsible for whatever he’s angry about.

You know that you have a big problem. But, you feel so shaken by what you’ve heard that you feel almost paralyzed and unable to function. Nevertheless, you know that you must defuse the situation or risk losing the customer.

What do you do?  First give yourself lots of empathy. Then when you are functioning normally again, give the customer lots of empathy.

What’s empathy?  Stay tuned for following posts about empathy.