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Customer Service LessonLessons about Customer Service

Sometimes “company policy” drives me crazy.  Often policies are perceived as unbendable rules.  When it comes to customer service, the words policies and rules may not be the best choice of words for creating a customer-focused environment.  The story I’m about to share is filled with lessons about customer service.  You’ve probably even had this happen to you. The three of us walked into a restaurant for dinner.  A fourth person was going to join us, but he was running late.  He said to start without him. We told the hostess we needed a table for four.  There were several open tables.  She noticed there were just three of us and asked where the fourth was.  We told her he was running late and we were going to order without him.  That’s when she said: I’m sorry. We can’t seat you until your entire party is here. Although we told her he was running late and we wanted to order without him, it made no difference to her.  She was following the company “policy”.  By the way, I can appreciate the restaurant’s position.  Some guests sit at the table and don’t order until the rest of the party shows up.  In that case, I understand.   Good restaurants tell their guests they will seat them at the very next table once the rest of the party arrives.  Good solution, but that didn’t apply to this situation. Now, back to the story.  What happened next could have come from a script from Seinfeld. I said, “Okay, there are only three of us.  We need a table for three. She said, “Sir, you’re lying to me.” Darn, she caught me. (I’m being sarcastic.)  I said, “Just give us a table for three.” I thought for sure she would start to argue with me.  After all, she apparently wanted to follow the rules and she had just called me a liar.  But she didn’t argue.  Instead, she grabbed three menus and immediately seated us at a table… that had four chairs! This is the kind of situation that really makes my blood boil.  How many customers has she upset in the past – or will she upset in the future?

Consider this:

Let’s assume this employee is a good person, who with training can understand and deliver a good customer service experience.  It’s okay to have some guidelines and boundaries.  Be careful about calling them rules or policies.  The word “guideline” implies some flexibility.  Employees must understand that they bend to meet the needs of the customer, as long as it doesn’t cause harm to the company. If you have the right system in place and define customer service experience clearly, you are off to a good start.  Recognize that it is your people that will deliver on the experience, so choose them wisely.  Hire people that understand customer service.  Teach them how to deliver your brand of customer service. Coach them when you see opportunities to improve.  Praise them when you see them doing it right. Shep Hyken is a customer service/CX expert, award-winning keynote speaker, and New York Times bestselling author. Learn more about Shep’s customer service and customer experience keynote speeches and his customer service training workshops at Connect with Shep on LinkedIn. (Copyright ©MMXIII, Shep Hyken)

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