Think about calling tech support for a computer problem, or an internet problem, or a cable problem, or a cell phone problem.
How many times does the call devolve in the “support” person making you feel stupid? How many times has your status been lowered by their company’s need to get you off the phone, regardless of whether your problem has been fixed? They are preserving their “high status” at your expense. Your problem is not getting fixed.
When one person is high status and another is low status, they will not work together well. Maybe one person can order the other person about, but real productivity will not last over the long term, because the low-status person will spend their energy trying to raise their status. The high-status person will waste their effort on preserving their high status by keeping their counterpart’s status low. Thinking of your customers as idiots sets the table for a status battle, or for the customer to simply go away. (Read more about status here.)
Layered over that is a vision problem. Most companies treat customer service as a “cost” and not an opportunity. Many of them go so far as to outsource their customer service to third-party companies. They compound the problem by failing to empower the third-party companies; the rules are too rigid to solve any but the most mundane issues. And to top it off, most third-party call centers grade their employees not on solved issues, but the number of calls they take.
I’ve called those places. So have you. It’s not a pretty thing.
Is there a solution? I believe there is.
In our own small business, when someone calls us with a problem, it’s an opportunity to make a happy customer for life. Some of the time, something has gone amiss with ticketing or getting a charge right. Our folks on the phones, including me, just mess up every once in awhile. Maybe the customer has a situation that doesn’t fit our very nice online system. Many times, audience members get sick and miss the show.
These are super-easy things to fix, but it’s remarkable how grateful people are when we simply say we’re sorry and make them whole.
What do we do to make it happen?
First, our people are empowered to make things right. Whatever it takes, short of bankrupting the company or doing something illegal, our folks know they can do it.
Second, we try to match the status of the customer. They are contacting us with a problem, and we know how that feels. We let them know we know. Acting like know-it-alls doesn’t help. Groveling doesn’t get us anywhere. Matching their status brings us together to solve the problem.
Third, if the request is unreasonable, we say, “No“, -and we also tell them why doing what they want would hurt our company if it were repeated over and over. We explain that we are a small family business. Almost everyone gets it. We always take the opportunity to have the customers learn a little bit more about us, and help them bond with us. We’re in this together!