Customer Service 101: The Customer is Not Always Right

customer service 101

Customer Service 101

The Customer Is Not Always Right

You’ve probably heard (more than once) that the customer is always right.

They are not.

Of course, they don’t have to be right. They are your boss’ boss. They pay the bills. The customer is not always right, but they are always the customer.

Given that we understand this basic tenet, let’s pivot to what is meant by great customer service. To fully grasp what great customer service is, it’s important to first know what it’s not. Great customer service is not about staffing a large customer service department or answering customer complaints quickly. In fact, great customer service has nothing to do with solving a customer’s issue. If you or your company are primarily focused on solving issues, that’s fine. Of course, this implies you have a reactive approach to the customer experience.

Great customer service means never having to say you’re sorry.

Providing great customer service is a function of focusing less on solving customer issues and more on preventing issues in the first place. Lifelong, raving fans are not created by solving issues; they are created by proactively managing the customer experience, understanding that they’re always the customer, and ensuring they never have service issues.

Consider the companies known for providing superior customer service. Companies like Chick-fil-A or Ritz-Carlton or Zappos. These brands aren’t known for solving customer issues; they are known for creating great experiences. In other words, they are known for never having issues in the first place. They are controlling their customers’ real-life touchpoints; and they’re controlling these at the most important juncture: via those closest to the customer; the frontline.

Companies known for great customer service understand that those closest to the customer control the customer’s perceptions, and they also understand that those closest to the customer reflect how they themselves feel they are being treated. They know that frontline employees who are being treated great will feel great and will reflect that in their customer interactions.

Customer Service “Skills”

Given that the definition and execution of customer service can mean different things to different people, it’s probably best to continue this post with some basics. For example, We’ve worked with managers who prided themselves on their “great customer service skills” because they were experts at “putting out fires.”

That’s not great customer service.

We’ve worked with salespeople who could talk nearly anyone into buying anything, and who swore, “my customers love me” despite the negative reviews they inevitably received when the buyer’s remorse sunk in.

That’s not great customer service.

We’ve listened to countless technical support and other representatives quote verbatim their companies’ scripts as they explained “we understand your frustration and we are sorry to hear you are experiencing difficulty with…”

That’s not great customer service.

As we’ve already written twice so far, great customer service means never having to say you’re sorry.

It’s not about putting out fires, convincing people to buy something they can’t afford, or even memorizing your company’s impersonal and unnatural responses written by the Human Resources team. Great customer service is simply getting things right the first time. That is, never having to say you’re sorry.

Does the Customer Experience Matter?

Over the years, We’ve both worked with numerous managers (even those making their living in the sales arena) who openly questioned whether the customer experience really mattered all that much. “Why,” they’ll ask, “do we need to focus so heavily on doing more than just delivering a good product at a good price? Why isn’t ‘good enough’ good enough?”

Of course, good enough is good enough… if that’s what you’re delivering in the eyes of the customer. When it’s not good enough in their eyes, it’s a bad customer experience. The problem isn’t that your team delivered something that wasn’t good enough; the problem is your team’s definition of good enough doesn’t match the customer’s definition. (We’ll tackle the concept of good enough in a future post.)

Often, when you believe you’ve delivered good enough and someone complains, you chalk it up to an irrational customer who can never be satisfied. You make no adjustments that will create a better experience for the next customer because you don’t believe improving beyond your version of good enough is necessary.

Consumer studies are clear: People are more likely to leave you for a competitor over a service issue than they are over a price or product issue. Additionally, it’s well known that acquiring a new customer can be exponentially more expensive than keeping an existing customer.

Customer experience matters.

Increasing customer retention can have the same impact on your bottom line as reducing costs four to five times the net increase in retention. Let this sink in. If your industry begins to enter a flat period of growth, what would be the impact to your bottom line if you’d been successful at increasing customer retention by just one or two percentage points? Your competitors would be forced to cut their expenses by four to ten percent just to stay on a level playing field with you.

Customer experience matters.

But wait, won’t unhappy customers just tell us when they feel they’ve been wronged? When this happens, can’t we just correct everything then?

Unfortunately, no. While it may seem like “Karens” are everywhere these days just a tiny percentage of unhappy customers will ever bother to tell you. Moreover, most of those who do have a bad customer experience on their first attempt doing business with you will simply never return. Ever.

Customer experience matters.

Certainly, you already know that online reviews matter, right? In fact, most people trust online reviews as much or more than they trust personal recommendations from their friends. Bad customer experiences lead to more negative online reviews, and unhappy people are more likely to leave reviews than those who are satisfied with your service. Do the math.

Customer experience matters.

How About a Quick Recap?

So far, we’ve learned that service issues negatively impact your business more than price or product issues, keeping a customer is cheaper than acquiring a new one, most unhappy customers won’t tell you they’re unhappy (most just never return), and consumers trust online reviews (including the negative ones).

To state it plainly, great customer service costs you less and nets you more. It sounds like customer experience matters.

Customer-First Companies

We know that great customer service means never having to say you’re sorry. We also know that companies like Chick-fil-A and Ritz Carlton aren’t known for solving issues… they simply don’t have issues. Understanding this, you should be asking just one question. That is, how do they do it?

Companies like Chick-fil-A, Ritz Carlton, and Zappos are considered customer-first companies. Of course, like all for-profit companies, their overriding goal is to maximize stakeholder returns… it’s just that these companies attack that goal from an angle that differs from most everyone else. Specifically, they understand that pleasing the customer equates to greater stakeholder returns.

Additionally, customer-first companies understand that having a customer-first approach most often leads to greater employee satisfaction and lower employee turnover.

You’re probably thinking, “Well great guys, but how do they do it? How do these companies avoid customer service issues and become known as customer-first companies? We desperately want to turn our organization into a CX juggernaut!”

Simply put, customer-first companies:

  1. Make “it” easy
  2. Manage expectations
  3. Keep you informed
  4. Keep their word

These four ridiculously simple concepts should become the foundation for your customer experience efforts. Though don’t worry if you’re unsure how they fit into your organization, we leverage these throughout the book with examples and deeper explanations.

Customer Service 101

The most basic lesson of customer service is that it’s not about solving issues, it’s about avoiding issues by making “it” easy, managing expectations, keeping customers informed, and keeping your word.

As we wrap up this post, let’s look at what we mean by making “it” easy. For you and your team, the “it” in make it easy is whatever your company delivers to customers. Whether a product or a service, you need to make it easy for the customer to do business with you. Among other things:

  • For Chick-fil-A this means providing a quick, efficient drive-through experience during the breakfast, lunch, and dinner rush hours.
  • For Ritz-Carlton this means anticipating guests’ needs and filling them quickly.
  • For Zappos this means quick, hassle-free, no-questions-asked returns.

Nothing spectacular here; just three companies making it easy to do business with them; just three companies putting the customer first; just three companies caring from top to bottom.

Wait, what? Caring? What does “caring from top to bottom” have to do with becoming a CX juggernaut?

Actually… it has everything to do with it.

Competitors – and perhaps even your own company – study the customer service rules, visions, mottos, mantras, credos, steps, and values of these three to copy what they did to become CX juggernauts. They call together committees who write new values, visions, and mission statements, inscribe these on large, expensive wall plaques, and order the plaques to be hung in every breakroom and employee area across all their locations. This is most often followed by a letter, email, or (worse) a Zoom call with the CEO touting the new customer-first approach of XYZ Company.

Then the executives smugly sit back and wait for these efforts to produce the customer experience gold that Chick-fil-A, Ritz-Carlton, and Zappos routinely deliver.

And they wait. They wait for something that never materializes because they never really cared about delivering a great customer experience; they are CX pretenders, and they only cared about generating the superior revenues and margins that come from being a customer-first company. They didn’t understand that becoming a CX juggernaut takes just a bit more than writing and sharing values, visions, and mission statements. These things are meaningless if no one – including their authors – is going to “live” them every day.

This is the second in a series of excerpts from Ridiculously Simple Customer Experience, a book written for everyone in any organization that has customers. That is, it was written for those in both the public and private sector; and for everyone in these organizations. From the frontline, customer-facing employees to the CEO and board of directors.

Each chapter in Ridiculously Simple Customer Experience concludes with Key Learnings and Chapter Exercises to make certain you and your team take the efficient path to becoming Customer-First. As you’ll learn in this ridiculously short book, building and maintaining a CX juggernaut isn’t hard… in fact, it’s ridiculously simple. Buy it now on Amazon!