The title of this article may seem silly; we all know what we mean by the term “Customer Service”; or do we? The term is defined as “The act of helping someone”, but this definition does not tell the whole story when it is applied to a customer that has purchased a product or a service from a company. With few exceptions, when a customer contacts a company’s customer service organization, it is usually because the customer has the feeling that something is not right. Notice, the term “feeling” is used. That term is tied directly to the term “expectation” and involves the fundamental definition of a defect as discussed in the article in this collection, “A Simple Definition of a Defect”. From that article: “A defect is any deviation from a customer’s expectations.” The deviation could involve a dead-on-arrival product, damaged goods, or a product that is working but is not what the customer expected. Independent of the root cause or actual failure, the customer is reaching out for help. Their goal is simple; they want resolution of the issue as they view it. So, the definition of “The act of helping someone” is not enough. The definition as viewed by the customer is “The act of resolving my issue”. In virtually all cases, the word “now”, probably with an exclamation point, should be added to their definition.
For the company and, specifically the customer service representative, the new request may just be one of many that they handle day-in and day-out. To the customer, the issue is unique and requires someone’s attention (now). Therein lies the potential for a major disconnect, the customer service rep may think of the issue as one of many while the customer probably thinks of it as a singular, very personal event. In many customer service organizations, a “good day” is viewed as one in which the number of problems at the end of the day is no greater than the number of problems that were present at the beginning of the day! Each customer, obviously, would have a totally different view. In their mind, “helping” is not enough. They want resolution.
No one is a stranger to “bad” customer service. In fact, many individuals think of the term “customer service” as an oxymoron and have become convinced that there is no such thing as “good” customer service! Although the definition varies from person to person, all of us have experienced trouble. Those experiences seem to be embedded into our instant access memory that is easily recalled when someone asks us about the last time we encountered difficulty with a product or service. In fact, the mere mention of a company’s name may instantly bring up the recollection of an issue or how we were treated. Often, we forget that the incident happened a long time ago or we have had almost countless good experiences with customer service in the intervening time period. The good simply never outweighs the bad. Not unexpectedly, an Internet search for “bad customer service” results in page after page of results of customer surveys and horror stories. What is interesting to note is that most of the surveys find the same companies bubbling to the top of the “bad” list year after year. Each of these companies probably rationalizes their standings and invariably has plans to “fix” the situation. No organization prides themselves in having a bad reputation. Obviously, year-in and year-out, consistently poor rankings accumulated by multiple sources indicate an undeniable systemic problem. Instead of focusing on “helping” customers as described in most definitions, customer service organizations and the associated systems need to focus on immediately resolving issues. Of course, this sounds simplistic but redefining the term to “the act of resolving issues” may cause entirely different approaches to be pursued. Allowing frontline or first person empowerment comes to mind as probably the best first step to providing immediate relief. How many customer service representatives actually feel empowered? Ask your reps for their candid opinions. You may be surprised. If so, re-think how you define customer service.