BrainTrust Query: An Inconvenient Truth About Bad Customer Service
Commentary by Doug Stephens,
President, Retail Prophet
Through a special arrangement, presented here for
discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail Prophet Consulting
Bad customer service may take years to prove fatal but the eventual outcome
is almost always corporate extinction. Surprisingly, very few companies turn
these negative situations around and improve their customer service position.
And as counter-intuitive as it seems, many act like they don’t even care.
It’s a lot like global warming.
Most would agree that the world’s climate is changing. With this
change we are seeing devastating impacts on the planet’s ability to sustain
itself. Unchecked, the problem will almost certainly eradicate life on earth.
why have we done so little to reverse the trend? I mean the survival of the
planet is a pretty big deal!
According to Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology
at Duke University and author of the bestselling book, Predictably Irrational,
there are three primary reasons for our apparent apathy when it comes to problems
like global warming:
- The problem seems simply too large for any one of us to comprehend solving.
- It’s a problem that threatens future rather than immediate devastation.
- Lastly, we have trouble visualizing how the little things we do as individuals
(like using more energy efficient light bulbs or recycling) contribute to
solving the seemingly insurmountable problem so we don’t become emotionally
invested in the solution.
This same holds true with systemically bad customer service. Despite leadership
droning on about the need for improvement, front-line staff often sees the
problem as too large, too complex and beyond their individual capacity to correct.
Perhaps no other automobile has become as synonymous
with the environmental movement as the Toyota Prius. It seems safe to assume,
therefore, that people who own a Prius are more environmentally conscious than
those of us who don’t.
However, there’s no credible evidence of any correlation between driving
a Prius and having an elevated environmental consciousness. Prius owners are
much like the rest of us. They don’t exercise any more day-to-day concern
for the planet than we do. In fact, one study concluded that a mere 27 percent
of Prius owners made the choice based on concern for the environment — most
drive one to save money. Nonetheless, we infer from their choice of
vehicle that they actually care more about the environment than they
So, what if we took this idea of inference a step further? What
if you could define specific actions that if performed, would infer to customers
that your employees appreciate them, even if they don’t? What if we
stopped talking about customer service and simply programmed specific events
into the store experience that makes even the least engaged staff member seem to
actually care about the customer?
As a guest, I don’t know if the bellhop
really cares about me. If they hold the door and smile, I’ll infer that
they care. I don’t care
if the sales associate really values my business. If they shake my hand and
thank me, I’ll infer that they appreciate me. That’s good enough.
as for emotional engagement from staff, it’s commonly accepted
that what we do affects how we feel. Change the behavior and you’ll change
the emotion. It follows then that if you get staff consistently doing things
along the path to purchase that clearly indicate caring for your customers,
eventually those same staff will care about customers.
There may also be staff
who choose not to come along for the ride but, trust me, with a clearly defined
set of actions on the path to purchase, they’ll
stand out like a Hummer in a sea of hybrids!
Discussion Questions: Is it possible for retailers
to create the impression of caring for customers through specific actions?
What do you think of the suggestions offered in the article?