I don’t believe in the adage “the customer is always right.” If the customer was always right, they wouldn’t need me because they could just make something up and it would be correct. I realize that’s taking the adage a bit too literally, but when you train customer service employees to make the customer always right then there is little room for your employees to do anything other than what the customer is asking. I believe the customer always knows what they want, but we have to help them find what they need. My keys to this follow.
1) Given enough time and resources, anything is possible. There is no request that cannot be fulfilled as long as there are enough time and resources to do so. Time just means how long it’s going to take to get the job done. It doesn’t mean “I don’t have time to do this” because in business that kind of time and “people” are near equivalent. Or, another way to say it is if you don’t have enough hours in a day to accomplish something, adding another qualified body gives you 8 more hours in a day. In this case “time” means how long something is going to take. All the manpower in the world cannot build a nation in a day; there are time constraints that have to happen. Projects are similar, so many people have to be involved that it’s not feasible to sit down and accomplish an entire project in one day. That’s the time or timeline that we’re talking about. Beyond that, we just need resources. Sometimes those resources are people, places, money, ideas, technology, or a myriad of other things. But, when you boil it all down, realize that nothing is impossible as long as you have time to get it done and the tools at your disposal to make it happen.
2) Forget the negatives — there is no can’t, won’t, don’t. Because nothing is impossible, all of the negatives go away. You can no longer say “can’t” because you know that you can. As a customer, I never want to hear how someone won’t do what I’ve asked, I want to know how they’re going to do what I’ve asked. Sure there are reasons not to do what a customer is asking, they’re not always right after all, but we don’t move forward with negative answers. As a customer, tell me how you’re going to make what I want happen. Address my need and my want and boil down to the root cause of the question I’m asking so that you can solve my problem. If I’ve asked to have my servers hosted on the moon and you say “can’t” while someone else says “can” then I’m going to look more fondly on that other company. That doesn’t mean you’re going to put my servers on the moon, I probably don’t want to pay the millions of dollars and tons of research and development that it’s going to cost to get them there, but I like having the option. Forget the negatives and remember that you can.
3) Never fall back to “it’s our policy.” Because you can get things done now, you’re inevitably going to run into things that the customer wants that are against the company policy. Now that I’ve erased your ability to say you can’t, the next easiest place to fall back on is “No, because that’s our policy.” These are the three most hated words in customer service. It’s the equivalent of that logical rhetoric you encountered when you were three years old asking “why” about the world and your parents said “Because I said so.” Remember how frustrating that was? Never fall back on that. Obviously, I’ve put you in a bind when the customer asks you for the keys to your vehicle, you tell them how much it will cost to buy it from you, and they ask “Why can’t I just borrow your car?” Springing to your lips is “It’s our policy that only employees are allowed to drive company vehicles.” But the customer does not care about our policies; they care about their wants and their needs. So, explain to them the why of it: “If I were to let you borrow my car, we would need to raise your rates and charge you extra because of the liability of you driving a company vehicle.” And move on to the solution, “I can give you a lift” or “I can sell you the car” or “I can invent a system of transporting matter from one location to another without the use of vehicles.” Obviously, some of those require more time and resources than others and the latter means your customer will probably miss their flight, but you didn’t stop at “it’s our policy.”
4) Knowledge is power. Because your capability to say “it’s our policy is removed” you now need to know why policies exist. You need to be able to understand it so that you can successfully circumvent the policy. The need of the company, risk mitigation strategies, and safety of employees are generally the reasons that policies exist. Going back to learning about the world, it is time to once again ask “why?” Why does a policy exist? What is the purpose and intent of the policy? You need to make it so that your understanding of policy is as vast and encompassing as the policies themselves. That knowledge will give you the tools necessary to explain situations to a customer, to bring them to your side, and to avoid can’t, won’t, don’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t couldn’t. Now you will have the tools to explain every facet that the customer is interested in and how we’re going to get them what they want. Empowering your customer with this knowledge gives them a platform to stand upon and rain down informed decisions. It empowers you to transfer your knowledge to the customer and to have the customer transfer their knowledge to you. Knowledge is what keeps us from sticking our fingers in light sockets. Well, that, and the tiny size of our light sockets these days.
5) Give them what they want, but make sure they have what they need. Because you have the knowledge of their needs and have discussed their wants, you now must give both to the customer. Our role in our careers is to give the customer what they need. However, in the free market dynamic, the customer is going to go to the company who gives them what they want. Our role then transforms into giving the customer both what they want and what they need even when these two items seem to conflict. Never stop meeting a customer’s needs by giving them what they want. Find a way to give them both. Drill down to the root cause of the desire so that your knowledge fills the gaps and gives you clarity on how to accomplish what the customer wants while maintaining what they need.
The company that does the above will be the company they keep, because the true cost of doing anything else will be too high.