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7 Jul 2011

Placebo Service: Creating Options

Intuitive approaches, ones that influence people on an emotional, often unconscious level create additional options for almost any problem, especially if they involve people. Too often though, we look at problems objectively: we solve problems rather than alter how people feel about them.

Customer service is fertile ground for intuitive approaches. In the May 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Ryan W. Buell and Michael I. Norton write in “Think Customers Hate Waiting? Not So Fast…” that customers will endure waiting “even when what’s shown is merely the appearance of effort.” Examined this way, customer service is theater, even entertainment. People pay to see comedians. Why wouldn’t they feel better about the same old service if it was suddenly more enjoyable?

Once, a quality service group, who had already heard many speakers on the topic, asked for a different approach from me. So, I taught them how to improve customer service without changing one process for doing so.

Here’s the key: don’t assume you improve customer service by providing better service. This doesn’t matter if customers don’t know or don’t feel that you are servicing better. So, communicate better that you are providing better service and influence better how customers feel about the service.

Previously, we saw that changing people’s feelings for you would change how they interpret your message even if you don’t change anything about the message. This principle holds true for customer service: change how they feel about you and you will change how they feel about the service even though you don’t change one thing about the service. We saw the same with management-employee relations.

By thinking of ways to influence people’s feelings about problems, we create more problem-solving options. Customer service is ideal for seeing how effective this can be.


6 Responses

  1. Denine Blas

    Having done customer service my entire life, customer service is the main artery for any company. Imagine a heart, all the vital organs needed to work the main predecessor of life. If one of the vital organs is not working properly then you have a possible failing heart. That is customer service for me. Customer service is a dying art form. A waitress is the main artery for a restaurant, it is that food server that completes all the company, a telephone operator is the main artery for any given company. Knowledge, talent, experience in dealing with the public, is the main artery for any company. A company that deals with multiple customer services agents such as Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T if you were to call and file a complaint with them regarding your phone, I can guarantee you will have a different customer service answer from every person you talk to. Companies need to train individuals properly, they need to all be on the “same page” when dealing with the public. Having trained many in multiple companies regarding customer service, I am giving scenarios about phone calls from the outside world, I am asking how they would handle it, what would they say, how would the create a “fix” for the angry customer who’s phone is not working properly, or their bill is wrong. You would not imagine the multiple responses I received from the individuals I have trained. None of the staff were ever on the same page, none of them ever really created a fix for the problem, none of them really ever honed in on exactly what the customer was calling about. Remember, it takes just one customer to be mad to create a tidal wave of negativity about a company. Review the customer service complaints from all major cellphone companies, review how the customer service base is rated from major cable companies, it is a nightmare how it is based and taught upon their staff.

    Customer service is a dying art form, all staff being on the same page is now forbidden. Companies promising their customers more than they can deliver is now the raging form of life.

    1. Mike Lehr

      Thank you, Denine, for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it. Yes, you’re right, teaching the skills you mention are difficult. On the other extreme, you have customer service that is too scripted and regimented causing deliverers of service to sound more like automatons than humans. I also find it’s finding the right people. Certain personalities should not be taking customer complaints. Do you find that sometimes it’s just a matter of listening? It seems we are too quick to propose a solution without allowing customers to vent. Thoughts? Again, I appreciate you visiting. Enjoy your day.

      1. Denine Blas

        You hit the nail right on the head, many people do not have the personalities to take customer service calls. I owned and operated a wedding coordinator business, my job was to listen and give the bride the weddings of her dreams. I must of been pretty good because I have over 5,000 vendors working for me and, I was in business for 27 years. Listening is the key component when dealing with customer service, and I can tell you right now Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T Comcast, Centurylink, do not listen, they just cut you off and think that they already know what your going to say.

        Sad, very sad

        1. Mike Lehr

          Thank you, Denine, I was interested in your thoughts. I do believe some techniques can be taught to help, but some folks are just not cut out for it. Sometimes it seems companies will throw whomever they find willing to do it. Again, thank you.

  2. I have done customer service job in my college days, the total scenario is different in India.
    The people here do not wait on call to entertained, they will be on call if the service are relevant means if they have any complaint about a product/service they will entertain you for long but you offer for something new service you will not Welcome.

    1. Mike Lehr

      I understand what you’re saying, Debashish. I consider handling complaints a part of customer service. In fact, I’ve trained people to resolve tough complaints in which there was nothing they could do except listen. Many times, listening to the complaints can solve complaints where there is no solution.

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