Why Customer Service Isn’t an Attitude

“I don’t know anything about that.”

That is the phrase I heard three times as I talked with a government agency this week. I had faxed a document the week before and waited 48 hours (which they said were necessary for the document to be recorded) only to find out that the fax number was wrong.

I notified her, “That’s the fax number on your website.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t know anything about that.” The statement was dripping with apathy.

“You might want to have that fixed.” I pressed.

“I don’t know anything about that.” She reaffirmed.

At Their Mercy

We love our independence.

It is an empowering thought to imagine all of our needs being met within our own power. It is also inaccurate.

We do not entirely depend on others for our success, failure or enjoyment;but our experiences are directly influenced by other individuals.

When I call customer support, the person on the other end of the line can exert power to inject the conversation with a desire to help or with disdain for my requests.

Each member of a team meeting holds a hand. They can decide which card to lay down at the table: collaboration, tyranny, eagerness, stonewalling or disinterest. What they play can change the whole game.

When addressing an incident, a manager chooses the story she tells her employee. The story could be about her commitment, and the commitment of the organization, to invest in the development of the employee. Or the manager could choose to tell a story of rules, infidelity and fear of what lies ahead. The selection of this story affects which story the employee chooses to tell himself, his colleagues and his family.

To a certain degree, we are at the mercy of others. We are not powerless victims, but we do need others to join us in telling a story that ultimately is about doing what is right, overcoming evil, sacrificing for others, showing compassion for the hurting, serving with joy and passion… a story about love.

To see yourself at the mercy of others may feel disempowering, but then there is the realization that others are at your mercy as well.

Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.
Mohandas Gandhi

Critical Anecdotal Mass

My wife and I visited a church while visiting some relatives. Their pastor began his message with an anecdote. It was a personal story that involved the pastor and his wife during their dating years. It was funny and seemed to get people’s attention. He then continued into a 3-point sermon about… something. I don’t remember the message, and all I remember about the anecdote was that it involved a futon. I do recall being very confused because the message had nothing to do with the futon story. There was no connection.

Anecdotes are recommended to presenters (including pastors) to help break the ice, bring comic relief and engage the audience. The problem is when the story doesn’t relate to the message. Even if you’re not a pastor or someone who presents, this is relevant to you.

What is the TRUTH about your company’s story, your family’s story, your story?

If you asked colleagues, employees and customers to tell YOUR story, would it be consistent or would the stories vary?

Why would they vary? Because everyone has their own personal experience. We possess our own anecdotal evidence to support our perceptions about most everything. There often isn’t one story, there are several personal stories that make up the narrative. And our personal story IS our truth. Unfortunately, we may be telling a story that doesn’t connect with what people experience. Like the case of the pastor’s sermon I mentioned earlier. You’re telling a story, but people can’t connect it to their experience.

The idea of telling a consistent story isn’t new. Not even close. But are you paying attention to the anecdotes you are creating? Every interaction with someone else is an opportunity to frame the story they tell. If others all start telling the same basic story, you may reach a (tipping) point where people you’ve never directly contacted are helping tell your story. We could call this Critical Anecdotal Mass.

It isn’t about manipulating or distorting the truth. It’s about being authentic, but intentional. It’s stories like Apple’s hyper-controlled design standards, the brilliant generosity of Tom’s Shoes or the affordable build-it-yourself eurostyle of IKEA.

So, let’s put down the futon anecdote, step away slowly and start telling the stories that connect… and matter.

The Onus of Loyalty

When you hear “customer loyalty,” what do you imagine?

The Happy Couple
The customer gleefully spending all their money with you out of some sense of belonging.

The Ol’ Ball & Chain
The customer is locked into a relationship with you because of terms and conditions or simply a lack of better choices.

The Gold Digger
The customer only stays with you because of the ‘gifts’ you give them. Once the flow of giving stops, so does the love.

I saw a billboard for U.S. Cellular the other day. It read, “We Believe Loyalty Matters.”

It was unclear what they meant by that and it made me think. I wondered, “Whose loyalty matters?”

Businesses today are so focused on creating customer loyalty. It is a lofty goal to aspire to be such a great company that people will not leave you for a lower price or better rewards program. How do you do that? Which above version of customer loyalty do you pursue?

What if we completely changed our vision of customer loyalty to something like this:

Be loyal to our customers.

Now, what does that change?

Communers and Commuters

A friend of mine was considering a position as pastor of a church. The church is an hour or so away. He declined the position because of the distance. My wife said the church probably would want someone who lived in their community anyway.

She’s right. Not only is proximity an issue, but there’s something comforting in another person knowing the “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant we love or the fact we had a relative in the obituary this morning. Not because we told them, but because they experienced it… they saw it.

Don’t we all want that? We want communers at our table, not commuters interrupting our lives. When we go to buy hiking equipment, we want an experienced hiker to help us find what we need. But more than that, how comforting is it to hear, “I remember my first hike. I wish I had one of these smaller backpacks. I wore myself out carrying too many unnecessary items. Since you’re going on a weekend hike, I’d recommend keeping your load light.”

As marketers (which we all are, to a degree), we have to remember this.

Do we drive in, drop off our marketing message, then speed back home? Or do we take the time to experience real community with our customers? Do we experience a part of their lives? Eat from their table? Drink from their cup?

Our agency helped a client develop a customer advisory board. We brought in 15 of their top customers, fed them dinner and discussed the company, the community and the customers. It was eye-opening. Assumptions were shattered and revelations came forth.

We made new friends and discovered something new about ourselves. I’m so glad we did it.

Try to commune with your customers. I think you’ll be amazed at the information, insight, and loyalty you gain.

A Plug for Our Plugs

A few weeks ago, I was doing research on eHarmony commercials. I thought I’d show you what we did with that research.

These were some fun TV ads we created for a Tulsa area business. It really fits their brand, since they’re known for matching people with just the right appliances. We’re hoping to build on this concept.