About a month ago I bookmarked a post Seth Godin had made about customer service. Since it is a little longer than usual, I waited until I had the time to come back to read it.
Now I sort of wish I had read it earlier because it pretty much runs counter to every customer service best practices article I have ever read and provides a lot to think about.
Essentially he says there are different types of customer service and a company should own the type they practice rather than pretending they are striving for something they ain’t.
Customer service is difficult, expensive and unpredictable. But it’s a mistake to assume that any particular example is automatically either good or bad. A company might spend almost nothing on customer service but still succeed in reaching its goals.
Organizations don’t accidentally run ads, don’t mistakenly double (or halve) the amount of cereal they put in the box. They shouldn’t deliver customer service that doesn’t match their goals either.
and at the end of the post [my emphasis]
Every single person who makes budget decisions, staffing decisions and customer service decisions must to be clear about which strategy you picked, needs to be able to state, “we’re doing this because it’s congruent with what we say customer service is for.”
Obviously, you can mix and match among these options, and find new ones. What we must not do, though, is plan to do one thing but then try to save time or money and do something else, hoping for the results that come from the original plan without actually doing it.
Customer service, like everything an effective organization does, changes people. Announce the change you seek, then invest appropriately, in a system that is likely to actually produce the outcomes you just said you wanted.
Between those two passages I quote, he points out ten different uses of customer service. There are some most of us aspire to. There are some that we complain about.
We read a lot of articles about how businesses need to engage with customers. So when we have an unsatisfying interaction with a company, we may complain about how they did not take the opportunity earn our loyalty. But as Godin points out, they may be reaching their goals without interacting with us in the way we want them to.
As customers, we may be like the school kid who says, I am really nice, helpful and loyal to them, why won’t they like me? Liking you may not be important to their goals.
We all probably assume this is part of airlines’ calculation, but reading Godin’s post you realize there are a lot of other companies that have decided they are doing just fine without doing much more.
My suggestion as you read his post is to take a different approach than you might normally.
Instead of thinking about all the things you need to change about the way you do business in order to meet customer expectations, be honest and consider whether the way you handle customer service isn’t just the way you want it after all.
If it isn’t the way you want it, consider what approach would fulfill your vision of success rather than what approach the articles you read say you should be using.
Whatever philosophy you adopt needs to be inline with your philosophy on programming, education, pricing and operations. Any misalignment will be apparent.
You can’t change your pricing in an attempt to attract under served audiences but have programming, education and operations oriented to serving a different demographic.
Likewise, you can’t aspire to certain goals without directing training and funding to support it.
Once you have decided what your philosophy is and what resources you can afford to direct toward accomplishing it, then you need to own that reality rather than pretend to be doing something else.