Customer Service: Going Beyond Technology and Realizing the Importance of the Human Factor
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Customer Service: Going Beyond Technology and Realizing the Importance of the Human Factor

What customer service is and is not

After writing an article on the importance of customer loyalty to a business, I thought it was only fair that I wrote things going away from the benefits only to the company and going a little deeper and to the core of things. What is really funny is the way that it has been complicated by businesspeople, academics and most recently, technology buffs.

So, Ms. Smarty Pants, I hear you ask, what is Customer Service? Ok, I will tell you. It is service to your customer. Simple as that. It is not about a piece of software. It is not about a database. It is not about a training course. All of these play their part and can help but it is more than that. As someone who has been - and remains - a customer myself and has had some experience serving customers, there are some things that I have learned, and I desire hope to impart this knowledge to you. I am about to explode some myths so brace yourselves . . . .

• Customer service is more than providing a quality product or service. This is very important. Quality and service have a symbiotic relationship. You cannot have one without having the other. When considering the quality of what you provide, you must take into account what the customers think and their perspective, because it will shock you just how differently you see things. You may make the best products on the market but customers look for more than that. They are looking for the additional elements of service. A great product with poor customer service and awful salespeople will only create annoyed customers. If you concentrate only on improving the product and not on the service to your customers, then you are in for a rough ride.

• Customer service is more than resolving complaints. It is about being proactive about avoiding complaints in the first place. Companies spend millions in money and man hours solving problems. Even though it can be difficult to satisfy everyone, just giving up without trying is counter-productive. I am not saying that you should not resolve customer complaints, but "putting out fires" should be part of the bigger picture. With every issue that is brought to light and dealt with, lessons must be learned and applied effectively. This means that the likelihood of the same problem arising is significantly reduced.

• Customer service is more than a fancy training course and expensive technology. Trying to take the short-cut to customer service may lead some success in the short-term but will not last. Yes, courses can help; after all, how is a person to know what they are doing if they are not shown? But being an example (if you are the manager/boss/CEO) is also very effective. People tend to learn more from following somebody's lead than sitting in a room confronted with fancy graphics and unnecessary statistics.

• Surprisingly, customer service includes realizing that the customer is NOT ALWAYS right. Some people just like to complain and will rant to anyone who will listen. Many of them are rude and hostile but the fact remains that they are the customer. I believe that companies should strive to do the best for their customers but there has to be balance. Sometimes, customers can be unreasonable - I know I can be (but most of the time I am right *winks*). If you or a member of your staff has had to bend the rules or back down to what is an usual or unreasonable demand, then make sure that the guidelines are clear as to how to deal with it. Inconsistency can lead to confusion and low morale. When dealing with this, it is important to let the customer know that this is an exception, a departure from the rules. As a manager, make sure you support and not undermining the employee.

• Customers that are satisfied always come back - this is a myth. Almost every business, at some level, can satisfy a customer. That does not mean that they will necessarily come back. Loyal customers come back. There is a difference. Learn it and learn it quickly. For example, I am a big fan of Burger King when it comes to fast food. I am also a Dorothy Perkins fan when it comes to fashion but I also adore Forever 21, Primark, Jane Norman and Victoria’s Secrets. They all satisfy me on some level, but the satisfaction does not make me more loyal to one than the other. - customer service

So there you have it. Some of it may have surprised you or all of it may have surprised you, but shifting people out of their comfort zones and wrong ideas allows them to confront and deal with issues and hopefully improve. There is no magic formula for having great customer service. But common sense, a great attitude, being proactive and yes, the use of technology in the right place, play their part. The saying "assume makes an ass out of u & me" is definitely applicable in the business world. Resting on your laurels and not challenging the norms, especially in this area, will definitely land you on your behind and we wouldn't want that, would we?

Take care and God Bless readers...

© Ngozi Nwabineli - November 2009

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Comments (6)

Ngozi, this is very true. Customer Service IS a be courteous, professional but also fair to your company and product. Quality and service go hand in hand with confidence and assurance.

Thank you so much for the comment. It is true. Many of the myths that have been perpetrated in the business world in this area have caused not untold misery to both businesses and customers. It has also cost them money, time, effort and convenience - of which could have been saved.

Clairsie, most of the article is aimed at the businesses and telling them to disabuse themselves of some of the myths they have been basing some of their policies on. They do get it wrong and customers are the ones who suffer. But sometimes there are those customers who are just difficult for being difficults sake. The balance should be struck and no one should suffer and beyond the technology, courses, you are right common sense should prevail. Till then, there are people like me to advise ;)

Why is it that companies put poor employees between the customer and their anger at the company? I always try to deal with a customer service rep like they are on my side against the company. Usually they secretly are! @ customers: Just be nice to them -especially if they are serving you food!

Good question Kevin! Who knows, lack of accountability and integrity is the answer that immediately springs to mind but I am sure there are other reasons. Many customer service reps (I used to work as one) do genuinely want to help but find their hands tied by corporate stuff or their ears bent by sometimes unreasonable customers. Again, the need is for moderation and balance.

then there are the poor clerk that has to say whatever because it is company policy and she would rather help the person rather say you must take this up with the manufacturer or whatever.