Shep Hyken\'s Customer Service Blog

Customers Are People, Not Numbers

Customer On HoldCustomer Support

It sometimes frustrates me, and I’m sure it does you as well, when you call to get customer support and you hear that recording, “Your call is very important to us. Please hold for the next available agent.” And, then they make their customers hold for a length of time that would make most people wonder if their call really was important to them.

Or how about when you finally do get to the customer support rep and they don’t treat you like a person. They are impersonal and treat you like an account number. They answer the call with a stoic and less than enthusiastic tone of voice and follow with a series of impersonal questions about your account number, the last four digits of your social security and your mother’s maiden name, only then do they ask what they can help you with.

It frustrates me when the customer service people act with apathy. Don’t they care about us? After all, aren’t we the people that pay their salary? Don’t they know what their job is? Here is my thought. Even though they were hired to answer questions and solve problems, they actually have a number of very important responsibilities.

  1. They are hired to solve customer problems. Isn’t that what customer service people usually do?
  1. They are role models for others to emulate. Good behavior leads to more good behavior. Unfortunately the opposite is also true. So, when employees step up and deliver a great service experience for their customers, it sets the example for others in the company. It has a contagious effect as others catch the passion that these excellent employees have for helping their customers.
  1. They are brand ambassadors for the company they work for. This goes beyond the hours that employees spend at work. A brand ambassador is a 24/7 job. Never speaking badly of the company, these excellent customer-focused employees always take advantage of opportunities to talk up their employer.
  1. They make their customers feel like customers. While any given customer may not be the biggest or most important customer that they have, they should never make the customer feel as if they are anything less than important. And for the few minutes they are interacting with their customer, they may make that customer feel like he or she is their most important.
  1. They must restore confidence. This one may be the most important of all. Solving their customers’ problems is expected. The key is to do it in such a way that also restores confidence. That means with the right attitude, a sense of caring, empathy and urgency.

I spoke with Janet Poklemba, a customer experience manager for a home warranty company at a recent conference.  The company sells home warranty programs and when something breaks, customers call in to place a claim for service.  Her customer service mantra for her employees is simple and effective, and is the perfect way to sum up this short article:

We are people helping people, not people processing claims.  

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact or For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXVI, Shep Hyken)

  1. Jeff Toister says:

    The experience you describe is indeed very frustrating. In most cases, I blame the leader for employee apathy, not the employee. Here’s why:

    1. They are hired to solve customer problems.
    A 2015 ICMI study found that 74% of contact centers admit they don’t give their agents the tools, resources, & authority they need to solve problems.

    2. They are role models for others to emulate.
    Many contact center employees feel undervalued by their leaders, who are *their* role models. A 2013 Benchmark Portal study found that only 39.1% of agents felt their leaders exhibited good listening skills.

    3. They are brand ambassadors for the company they work for.
    This is true, but only engaged employees realize and embrace this. The majority of employees are disengaged or actively disengaged with their company.

    4. They make their customers feel like customers.
    This is hard to do if the contact center agent doesn’t feel a sense of belonging with their team.

    5. They must restore confidence.
    Many contact center agents lack confidence in their company’s ability to provide great service, so they find it difficult to project confidence themselves.

    The best agents do all the things you suggest, but there’s usually a great company behind them!

  2. All good points, Jeff. The leader sets the tone. The leader is responsible for the culture. Good hiring is also important. Even if you hire good people, the company’s leadership and culture will change the outcome of a good employee. If you want your customers treated like people, then treat your employees like people. What’s happening on the inside of a company is felt on the outside by the customer. (I know that last line is one of my favorites, but it is worth repeating – over and over!)

  3. Indeed, customers if treated in the right way would become champions for your business and there is nothing best than a customer referral.

    But the bad experience spreads even faster. In a survey by Kayako, it was found that happy customers talk about a business only 29% but sad customers talk about you 68% of the time.

    The stat says it all why you should treat your customers as people and not numbers.

Leave a Reply