Customer Service

September 14, 2008 by
Filed under: People, Teamwork 

We’re all familiar with customer service, and likely have all kinds of stories to tell about disappointments with transactions we have had. I’ve changed cel phone carriers in disgust several times, and will never get my car serviced where I originally bought it. I have actually had a few positive surprises that have dramatically strengthened my relation with some service providers, but alas, these are outnumbered. This idea of customer service is more pervasive than we might first think.

Usually when we think of customer service, we are thinking of a service provider that serves many different customers, often to the point where the magnitudes force some degree of anonymity and distance. For my phone services or credit cards or insurance and daily banking, I am not much more than an account number and the details contained in their internal systems. This is the extent of the connection to them. I am a small part of their overall sea of customers, and typically get that slice of attention from them. On my side, there are usually a host of other service providers that have roughly equivalent service that I can turn to when I am frustrated. Thin ties, easy transitions elsewhere when things go awry.

If we think about it, though, we are customers and service providers with everyone around us, and understanding the ‘ties that bind’ between each of us can be a useful tool for us to achieve our goals. This is not a hierarchical relationship: every connection we have is bi-directional. We need to understand what we are expecting to get from the other person, and what they are expecting of us in return. 

For the traditional customer service relationships this usually becomes something like a monthly fee in return for services, or their ability to realize their margin in the products they sell us. Our service to them is usually monetary, and they have just as many means as we do to address failed expectations. Easy to recognize relationships, which allows that thin tie to work and avoid too many transitions to new service providers. 

For other relationships, the value passed back and forth can be far more nebulous. In the workplace or the home, we have ties to all of our peers, our bosses and subordinates that can all be seen as these same client-server ties. I have needs from my children, they have needs from me. You have needs from your employer, your employer has needs from you. In this case, while your needs from your employer are primarily monetary, there is a broader range of needs and the expectation is that the ties are not as tenuous as buying a tank of gas.

There is always a quid pro quo that needs to be satisfied in order to sustain and strengthen that tie between us. If my kids are asking for things before they have even had breakfast or made their bed, the imbalance drives me to hold off on letting them get on the Wii. It is easy to see What’s In It For Me, but we also need to know what is in it for the other party (sorry, no acronym to be added here). In doing so, we learn what is in it for us, as these relationships need plenty of nurturing to work well.

If you have expectations that you will have a place to go to during the workweek and get paid to be there, think about the expectations in return. How is the value of your presence measured in the workplace, by your employer and by all of those around you? Slip into their shoes, if you can. Are you meeting those expectations, or are you jeopardizing those ties? How important are those ties for you?

Try this, just for a day (or even for the next couple of hours). With everyone you interact with, put yourself in the position of both the customer and the service provider. What am I expecting out of this transaction, what is expected of me in return? How do these expectations support or strengthen our relationship? What is the cost of failing to meet these expectations? Possibly most importantly, how do I know that the other person has the same understanding of these expectations as I do?

Chances are that you will gain an appreciation that a little more effort in serving others is actually in your best interests. Have the important conversations if necessary. A little effort can go a long way towards strengthening relationships that might at times be quite tenuous. – JB

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