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Leadership Q&A: It’s a Two Way Street


Reading through some computer service forums the other day looking for an answer to a buggy USB connection, the following question came to mind.

Is good customer service a product of the systems design of the company or is it a product of a relationship established between the customer and the company?

All of us who use technology I’m sure find ourselves at some point dealing with equipment failure (Knock on wood.). With my last computer, I replaced every part, but the DVD drive, at least twice, if not three, four, or five times. Fortunately, my extended warranty paid for all those replacements.

Now should I be upset that my computer breaks down or should I be grateful that I have a service contract that will fix the equipment the next day?

Customer service is not different than any other relationship. We get back what we give. If we act demanding and condescending, then we’ll get resistance and difficulty.

If, however, we identify with the dilemma that every customer service representative has, then we’ll realize that it is a given in their industry that you can’t please everyone, even part of the time.

Customer Service is a Partnership

I believe we should cultivate customer service relationships like we cultivate client relationships. Some of these work better online, some better face to face.

For example, I have been going to the same cell phone office for 15 years. The staff has changed, but I’m in there enough for most everyone who works there to have worked with me at one time or another.

It  is important to realize that the person you are working with is caught in an untenable situation. Complex corporate rules often bind them from treating us as a unique customer. So, I try to help them find a way to work within and around the rules so that we can reach the best possible goal.

A Customer Service Partnership Plan

Here are some things to keep in mind every time you deal with a customer service rep.

1. They are human beings who want to do what is best for the client, so treat them with dignity, respect and common courtesy. Call them by name, and be gracious with them. They will go the extra mile, if you do.

2. They are limited on what they are allowed to do, so ask questions that explore possible alternatives that might be possible, but not typically thought of. As the case maybe, what the representative has been told to say is not always what is the actual policy of the company.  Explore that possibility.

3. Be realistic about the performance of any system that is organized to be efficient. Meeting peoples exact needs and wants is not efficient. It is costly, and corporate customer service systems are organized to minimize their costs, and provide us with the best possible result within reason.

I know that we all encounter situations when the worse possible outcome is the result. And that we do encounter people who lack basic personal interaction skills, and are not interested in helping us to find a solution. In those situations, do the following.

4. When encountering an unsatisfactory situation, ask for their supervisor. Keep asking until you get some measure of satisfaction. When you do speak with supervisory level management, do the following. Get her or his name and contact information, including the name of their supervisor.  Ask for this information in a respectful manner. Anger only creates greater resistance.  Write a letter whether complimentary or not in order for the process of interaction be recognized by someone in authority.

Ask about the rationale behind the policy that seems to be the problem. If they do not know, then ask to speak to their supervisory. As I’ve encountered, they may say the supervisor is not in, and will return the call. In that case, get their name and phone number and a time when it would be appropriate to return the call.

If you remember in the midst of a heated situation that you are fostering a relationship between yourself and the company that will exist after this experience, then you’ll find a way to make the best of the situation.

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About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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Posted in General Leadership, Leadership Q + A, Work Life Lead.

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