What they want and why they want it: Providing exceptional customer service

May I ask you to complete a difficult task? Please take a second and recall a recent experience in which you received exceptional customer service.

Tough as that task may be, I’m sure we can all recall at least one time when we, the customer, felt like we were exceptionally well served. And I’m willing to bet that many of our experiences share two common features:

  1. Our friendly customer service agent fulfilled our main request
  2. But our friendly customer service agent went beyond our main request by trying to understand our underlying needs and how to satisfy them even better

An example: I once asked a Verizon customer service representative whether she could extend a promotional period on my phone bill. “Why yes,” she said, and did so. “But let me also check something,” she added, apparently surmising that I wanted to cut costs. “Based on your typical usage, I have plan that meets your needs and costs even less. Better yet, it’ll never expire. What do you think?” Obviously, I considered that a great idea.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: if Verizon was full of such employees, the company would probably go out of business. And you’re right. Nevertheless, from the customer’s perspective, this was exceptionally good service—and not just because she saved me a bunch of money. It was exceptionally good service because she cared enough to understand what was important to me, then attempt to fulfill it even better.

If you are in customer service—if you in any way serve a customer—this is a strategy that can make life negotiable. Try to not only do what the customer is asking. Try to understand why they are asking for it, then ask yourself how you can meet that need even better. This is kind of the inverse of a previous post when I advised you, as the customer, to try and understand what’s motivating a stubborn customer service representative. As the customer, that can be the only way to get things done. As the customer service representative, it’s the way to go above and beyond.

Now, I still know what you’re thinking. Many customer service agents are incentivized to concede as little as possible to demanding customers. If you, as customer service representative, went above and beyond on every request, wouldn’t you probably get fired? If all such requests were about money, maybe so. But anyone in customer service can tell you that customers have many needs, only one of which is money. Indeed, many customers, having received exceptionally crummy service in the past, simply need to vent. If you, as customer service representative, can understand that motive and satisfy it by simply expressing some empathy, you’ve satisfied the underlying need and thereby provided exceptional customer service.

But I still know what you’re thinking! As a customer service representative, won’t the customer get mad if you do anything other than exactly what they’re asking? Well, if you ignore what they’re asking and do something completely different, then probably so. But if you do what they’re asking for and then do something extra—well, it’s hard to imagine anger over a bonus.

So here’s the bottom line: When serving a customer, it’s helpful to ascertain not just what they want but why they want it. By doing that, customer service representatives can go above and beyond basic expectations and make some small portion of their lives more negotiable—not to mention their customers’.

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