Uncommon Customer Service

At first glance, the title of this post might suggest some wonderful customer service experience that’s so rare it might fall into the category of ‘uncommon.” Not so. This is about a quality of customer service that has become quite common. Northwest Arkansas has evolved over the last 25 years to become one of the top three growth areas in the United States, surpassing such highly recognized western growth icons as Las Vegas, NV, San Diego, CA, and (in it’s heyday) Silicon Valley, CA. The environment here has evolved from one of rural familiarity influenced by traditional values of hospitality and friendliness, to one of urban growth influenced by contemporary values of politics and affluence. In simpler terms (depending upon many variables), it’s as much about who knows you and how much you’re worth (or more at times), as it is about whether you’re just a common person worthy of common consideration. Nowhere is this evolution more evident than with Customer Service. There should be no place in the country more influenced by a culture of ‘uncommon customer service’ than Northwest Arkansas, where the standard was set by Sam Walton many years ago. Yet, I continue to see a level of frustration with customer service here that goes beyond explanation in just terms of growth, diversity, and infrastructure. Those reasons are appropriate to explain how the environment reacts to services in terms of utilities, highways, schools, medical care facilities, etc. However, when those reasons are used to rationalize individual customer service, then I think we’ve lost sight of what ‘uncommon’ really means. I’m talking about customer service as it relates to goods and services in both the public and private sectors. In the public sector, our frustration is more with how we’re being treated at the time we’re paying for the service (taxes, utilities, etc.). In the private sector, our frustration is more with how we’re treated after the service has been paid for and rendered. Our frustration may be even more compounded by how we’re treated when asked for our opinion about the service. If the opinion is too negative, then the response (if we receive one) is more often defensive in nature (rationalizing for the experience), rather than just simply taking ownership and apologizing for it. Are there customers trying to get something for nothing, take advantage, steal, or cheat? Yes. Are there customers that are disrespectful, sarcastic, untruthful, or just simply unreasonable? Yes. Are there service providers that will exhibit some of those behaviors? Yes. Regardless of the circumstances, when service providers in the private sector open their doors for business, they do so to one and all and they (not the customer) bear the burden for proof of good service. In most instances, the service is guaranteed to be better than any competitor, which increases the burden of responsibility for proof of that guarantee. That burden also transfers itself to the public sector in terms of what taxpayers expect for the services they pay for, which includes respect along with providing the revenue. So, what’s the problem? I truly believe a segment of private service providers and public servants have lost the ability to take ownership and just simply and sincerely say I’m sorry. I also believe there’s a new generation of public and private providers that just don’t know how. They’ve forgotten that it’s about being empathetic and listening, not about being sterile and just enforcing the rules and regulations. I feel that most negative customer service issues could be resolved with just a simple, sincere, apology and a commitment to improve the experience over time. I could be very naive, but years of professional experience interacting as both consumer and service provider tell me I’m not. The most important question to ask is this. If the good customers are still in the majority (as they are and will always be), should the level and quality of service provided be dictated by the behaviors of the bad customers (who are in the minority and always will be)? The obvious answer is ‘no’, but I believe that’s what’s happening. Most hunters will confirm that it’s easier to use a shotgun than a rifle because your odds of hitting something are significantly improved. Unfortunately, with too many service providers as it relates to customer service (whether public or private), the rule of the shotgun rather than the rifle has been adopted. Why? Because it’s easier to just ‘point and shoot’ than it is to take time to focus and make sure you’re aiming at the right target. I’ve always wondered why so much time and money are spent on marketing to attract the customer and so little is spent on customer relations to take care of that customer. If you look at the ‘best of the best’, which provide service that is recognized by the customer as truly uncommon, you’ll find a provider with a philosophy and standard of communication that understands one thing very clearly, which is one size does not fit all when it comes to communicating with people. Those providers also understand something that’s even more important, which is that kind of standard can be taught. It’s a standard that teaches empathetic listening, positive and objective responses, flexible attitudes combined with disciplined approaches, and (above all) a common respect and consideration for the individual that enforces the standard. What we don’t have in common is that we’re not all private proprietors and we’re not all public servants. What we do have in common is that we’re all customers. As customers, we’re all in the market for different things, whether it be a service or a product. What we all have in common is the need for a common level of individual consideration and respect. If it approaches a level that’s considered ‘uncommon’, that’s a level of customer service so rare, it’s truly worth recognizing.

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