6 Different Perspectives on Customer Service

One of my favorite poems is The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe. In it, he tells an old Indian legend of six blind men getting very different perspectives of the same elephant. This week I had the opportunity to experience customer service from several different angles and it got me thinking that customer service really isn't as easy as we make it sound. It's easy to say things like, "The customer is always right" or "Find ways to say YES" or "Do the right thing," but recovery situations usually require some difficult choices. Here are a few things I saw this week from six different angles. ANGLE 1 - SERVICE PROVIDER FOR AN EXTERNAL CUSTOMER Like many companies we monitor Twitter for customer complaints (see 7 Impressive Twitter Customer Service/Brand Management Cases). Unfortunately, one came up this week. The tweeter described bad service he had received in one of our locations and wrote "you have lost a customer for life." Those are scary words no matter what business you're in, so I sent him a tweet apologizing for his experience and asked if I could do anything to help.

He very professionally and objectively described a series of missteps we had taken. The final one being we missed a very important deadline. In talking it over with the head of our customer satisfaction department, she suggested we send a very sincere apology with a gift certificate to a nice restaurant near their home. Her experience and logic were right on target. She said, "Would you want free service from a company that handled something this badly? The best we can do is offer him something he'll actually appreciate."

Lesson from ANGLE 1: Apologize and offer something of value to the customer. ANGLE 2 - SERVICE PROVIDER FOR AN INTERNAL CUSTOMER One of our stores made a request that I felt I had to say "no" to. After all if I did it for this one, I would have to do it for all of them. This is where "do the right thing" is harder than it sounds. If I bend the rule in this situation, then I would be taking care of our internal customer request, thereby "doing the right thing" only then I would not be treating everyone the same, thereby NOT "doing the right thing." The logic also works in reverse if I choose to stick to the letter of the law.

I really struggled with this issue. I wanted to find a way to say "Yes" and maintain consistency and fairness across the entire company. So I reached out to a partner and asked a peer of mine if he had any suggestions. He did. He suggested a set of criteria that would make sense in this situation to make an exception. And future requests could be filtered against this criteria to maintain consistency. It was a lot more work, but I think it was a good solution, and allowed us a chance to provide better service.

Lesson from ANGLE 2: One size doesn't fit all. Be flexible.

ANGLE 3 - CUSTOMER WITH A COMPLAINT My wife and son went to see the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince this week. She bought tickets a day before to ensure they got to watch it in the larger theater. When they arrived an hour before show time, the ushers had already opened all the theaters and were letting anyone with a ticket sit in any theater they wanted. Of course, the larger theater was filled with people saving seats and chaos ruled as people ran from theater to theater looking for the best seats.

My wife complained the night of, but the "manager on duty" (a teenager with a walkie-talkie) did nothing more than state that they were really short staffed. When she asked if there was someone else she could talk to, he gave her a phone number and said she could call it the next day during normal business hours.

Since I just dealt with a customer complaint on Twitter, I posted a complaint about the theater, and was pleased when I got response from the company's social media manager. After he asked a what happened he sent this message:

I'm really sorry that happened. Theatres usually have roped lines to any big show. Let me get more info and get back to you.

I felt good about the apology, and I was looking forward to his next step which was this direct message to me:

Our Operations Excellence team wants to get to the bottom of it. They can be reached at 1.877.262.4450. Thx for reaching out.

Why do I have to do the next step? Compare the ownership in this situation to the great recovery I received from First Watch a few weeks ago.

Lesson from ANGLE 3: Take ownership even if you didn't cause the problem.

ANGLE 4 - CUSTOMER CHOOSING TO DO BUSINESS ELSEWHERE Over the past few weeks we've had a couple of painters come to our house to give us bids to have our exterior painted. One guy was particularity persistent in following up. Unfortunately, he was our first bid and we're not real fast decision makers. Even though he was the lowest bid, we decided to go with someone else. Since he followed up so well, I called to let him know. His response, "Well, you're going to be disappointed that you didn't choose me. If not now, you will be in 5 to 6 years. Nobody does the kind quality I do."

Wow, what a poor sport! His response definitely reinforced our decision to go with someone else. What he doesn't realize is he was a really close second place, and if I needed something in the future I may have called him, but not now. I've learned to never say never, but I will go through great lengths not to do business with him.

Lesson from ANGLE 4: Play for the long-term even when you lose in the short-term. ANGLE 5 - CONSUMER WARNING A friend of mine said I needed to check out the "United Breaks Guitars" video on YouTube. He was right. Check it out yourself.

You should also read David Carroll's detailed account and see his personal response video:

Lesson from Angle 5: In the age of social media, one angry customer tells over 3,000,000 people. ANGLE 6 - CONSUMER PRAISE Here's a great story to end on: Men's Wearhouse Alters Your Suit Early so You Can Attend Your Grandmother's Funeral!

Lesson from Angle 6: When you know your customer's real needs, you can deliver service that truly makes a difference.