Customer Service is the Key to Success in Business and at Work


I am a firm believer that Customer Service is the key to success in business, and especially at work.  When I’m centered / in the zone that everyone receives the benefit of my Customer Service, whether they’re internal team-mates or supervisors or actual external paying customers, I stack the deck in favor of my success.  While it’s not an iron-clad guarantee, it is exceedingly helpful in preventing distracting and energy-sucking resentment build-up for my internal / external customers, and especially (and selfishly), for me.  I’m a firm believer in Nelson Mandela’s statement that “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

Case in point:  Supervisor Customer Service.  When I have serviced / over-serviced my supervisors throughout my career, I know I’m on the side of the angels, and I consequently stay centered and therefore focused on achieving my goals.  For one particularly anxious and difficult supervisor earlier in my career, I actually loved the challenge of keeping him proactively briefed before he could check on my work.

This philosophy works particularly well for those of us blessed with sales, marketing and customer service DNA.  Or, as my Lower-East-Side-born-and-bred salesman father would say:  “Over-service the assholes.”

Dad’s advice has almost always been helpful (albeit Marine-salty), particularly with the supervisor who wanted the work performed exactly as they would do it, pre-approved; no autonomy at all, and my mastery and purpose were not even considered.  Not the ideal situation.  “I don’t know what to do,” I said to my dad, extremely distressed at the time.  “I’ve never been treated this way before as a professional.”

Dad tapped into my sales DNA.  “In order to help you best detach emotionally from the situation,” he coached,  “I’d like you to look at them as your biggest, most important customer.  And your job is to meet / exceed their needs.”  I wasn’t so sure.  “Even if my supervisor is being disrespectful?”  I queried.  He reinforced the coaching. “They’re the big hairy customer,”  Dad replied.  “Listen to their needs, meet their needs, make them happy.  It will make what sounds and feels like an abnormal situation feel more normal, because you’re great at customer service – like me.”  I finally exhaled.  “Okay, my supervisor is my customer. I’ve handled difficult customers my entire career; I can handle this.”  Dad agreed.  “Yes, you can.” And I did.  My customer service belief system outweighed my emotional reaction to the unfairness:  all that mattered was servicing the customer by listening to their needs and then subsequently meeting their needs.  (My fellow mediator friends and colleagues:  sound familiar, e.g. the source of all human conflict is needs met and unmet?)

In taking the concept of Holistic Customer Service one step further, I’m also reminded of Bob Sutton’s recent blog posts on the poor customer service his friend’s 10 year-old daughter received from United Airlines, where Chapman and Thomas’s book, The Five Languages of Apology, is mentioned as a path United Airlines should have taken in this situation.  In my Customer Service experience, the power of an authentic apology when a customer is distressed is worth its weight in gold for all involved, including me as the Customer Service person initiating the apology:

  • Expressing regret – “I’m sorry.”
  • Accepting responsibility – “I was wrong.”
  • Making restitution – “What can I do to make it right?”
  • Genuinely repenting – “I will try not to do that again.”
  • Requesting forgiveness – “Will you please forgive me?”

And in their workbook, The Five Languages of Apology in the Workplace, Chapman and Nelson lift up both Mandela’s and their philosophy even further, with the LEARN model:

  • L = Listen. Hear the customer’s complaint.
  • E = Empathize. Let the customer know that you understand why they would be upset.
  • A = Apologize.
  • R = Respond and react.  Try to make things right.
  • N = Notify. Get back in touch with the customer and let them know what action has been taken.

Ironically and wonderfully, when we stand up for our customers (team-mates, supervisors, etc.)  in their times of distress and in this manner, it is then that we build the strongest business relationship bonds, supporting retention.

How will you use your Holistic Customer Service skills to best support your distressed customers in business and at work this week?

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