October 13, 2010

Customer Service Design

I really liked the article in MIT Sloan Management Review (Fall 2010) called “Designing the Soft Side of Customer Service” by Dasu and Chase.

The authors write: “Even in the most mundane [customer] encounters, emotions are lurking under the surface. Your job is to make those feelings positive.”

Wow! That is a pretty powerful statement.

Think about it. How often do you genuinely deliver on that positive experience for your customers versus how often do they come away feeling slighted, taken advantage of, maybe even cheated of the service they know they deserve.

Sometimes of course, there are justifiable reasons why we can’t make a customer happy—maybe the customer is simply being unreasonable or is a knucklehead or maybe even some sort of nutcase. We have to use good judgment when it comes to this.

But often there are other problems that are getting in the way of us delivering on that positive customer experience:

Problem #1: We get caught up in the policies, processes, personalities, and politics of a situation, rather than focusing on the customer and their satisfaction. We forget who our real customers are.

Problem #2: We don’t think like the customer. We don’t genuinely listen to the customer or try to understand where they are coming from or what they even want. We are too busy talking the “company line,” playing defense, or taking an adversarial role. We don’t put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, not even for a minute.

Problem #3: We often don’t put the customer first; we put ourselves first. We are more concerned with not making a mistake, getting into trouble, or maybe don’t want to even work “that hard.” In general, we should, but don’t go the extra mile for the customer, let along deliver on first mile.

The MIT article tells us that we can improve customer experiences by designing-in how we manage the customer’s emotions, trust, and need for control (ETCs), as follows:

  • Emotions—have empathy for customers and generate thoughtful interactions that limit negative customer emotions and accentuate positive ones, so that the customer comes away feeling joy, thrill, happiness rather than anger, anxiety and stress.
  • Trust—provide consistent performance, a high-level of engagement and follow-up, and clear and open communication. These contribute to building an enduring relationship.
  • Control—provide customers with ample information, so they feel “cognitive control” over what is happening to them, and provide customers with the ability to make significant service delivery decisions, so they experience “behavioral control.”

Designing for positive customer ETCs experiences will go a long way to resolving the problems of poor customer service, where we know and stay focused on who our customers are, can think as they do, and seriously deliver on their needs the way you would want your customer needs addressed.

I suppose if I have to sum it up in a couple of words, it’s about being professionally selfless and not selfish in all our customer interactions.

It takes some maturity to get there, but I think it’s why we are here to serve.


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