In my role teaching organizations how to deliver service excellence, I’m often asked a version of the following question: “As a service rep, (or manager, or continuous improvement coach, etc.) how do I know what my value is?”
I’m always somewhat surprised by that question because whether the organization I’m working with makes products or services, they’re all really in the same business: satisfying the customers who choose to do business with them. In my opinion, the question really isn’t “How do I know and show my value?” It’s “How do I best help others receive the value that they want and need?” In other words, instead of asking “What’s in it for me?”, the question we really need to ask is “What’s in it for others – for the people I serve?”
As organizations, focusing on others, our customers, is the way to fulfill our purpose. And If you’re a customer service organization (and in this day and age, all organizations need to be!) it’s not altruistic to think this way, it’s simply good business: without customers, we don’t have a business. Today’s customers have an infinite amount of choices of where to get their products and services: online, or in person, and there are endless, easy ways to find similar product and service offerings at competitive quality and cost.
So why would a customer in today’s market remain loyal to one company? What’s the differentiator? Service. That means we need to have a very deep understanding of what our customers really want – not what we think they want or what we want them to want – or we won’t be able to serve THEM and deliver the value that THEY want, when THEY want it, exactly as THEY want it.
Instead of focusing on figuring out what our value is, what we need to do is spend our time and energy focusing on understanding what is valuable to each of our customers. How do we get that deep understanding? It’s actually very simple. All we need to do is ASK!
And when I say ‘ask’, I mean ‘ask’ with open ears, open eyes an open mind and an open heart.
What do I mean by that?
With open eyes and ears means paying attention and being present in the moment so that we can really see and hear what our customers are telling us about our products and services. From their point of view and their experience with them, not as we assume they are experiencing them from our own, internal perspective. Pay close attention to your customer’s body language and tone of voice when they are telling you about their experience. Are they smiling or frowning? Are they smiling with their mouth but not with their eyes? How about the tone of their voice? Especially important for service interactions that take place over the phone. Can you hear stress and strain in your customer’s voice even though they are saying everything is fine? If something seems incongruent, like the customer who says everything is great, but isn’t smiling and has their arms folded across their chest, further questions to understand their experience are definitely in order!
With an open mind means listening objectively. Because serving customers involves people interacting with other people, it’s easy for us to take a customer’s experience personally. Especially if the customer is telling us something that didn’t quite go the way they wanted it to. As people, when things ‘go right’ we’re proud and want to take credit for the outcome. When things don’t go so well, it’s human nature to want to find a reason it’s not related to us! That makes it easy to have ‘selective hearing’ so that we hear only what we want to hear. However, if we don’t listen objectively, taking our own egos and feelings out of the picture, we won’t have the opportunity to understand what’s happened from our customer’s point of view.
And finally, with an open heart means listening with compassion and empathy. Our customers are human beings. People just like we are. With their own struggles and imperfections. When they are telling us what is valuable to them and what didn’t go as they expected, if we listen and respond with compassion and empathy we’re really serving their basic human needs as well as the needs our products and services provide! And isn’t that what every customer really wants? To be treated with dignity and respect as a human being?
The other night I had dinner at a popular restaurant. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great experience. Anything that could have gone wrong, did. Some of our appetizers were forgotten, my friend was given the wrong main course, and everyone’s fries were cold. We had to flag down a server and then wait for new ones to be cooked. As you can imagine we weren’t very happy.
Eventually, our server came over to check on us, asking, “Everything going great? Just like you expected?” Of course, it wasn’t, but no further follow up questions were asked in response to our perfunctory nods and unenthusiastic ‘yeah, I guess so…”. And later on, when I talked with the manager she said, “I’m sorry I didn’t know about the problems. You should have asked for me earlier.” In my opinion, that’s backwards thinking in customer service. If she had proactively come around to customer tables to ASK how things were going – and listened with open ears, an open mind and open heart – to what customers had to say about their experience (her job as a customer service manager), she would have ‘seen’ what was really happening from her customers point of view. And at that point it certainly may have been possible to do the things that would have made our experience much better.
ASKING customers about what they want, need and value becomes much easier once we stop thinking about ourselves and our value, and instead concentrate on others and their needs. It’s not easy to do. But it’s worth it. So the next time someone in your organization asks “How do I know what my value is”, I challenge you to turn the question around and help them figure out “What do your customers really value and what can you do to help them receive that value?”
As I always say, “Ask not what your customer can do for you and your business, but what you can do for your customer as the real, live human being that they are.” That’s what service excellence really means.