Customer Service: A Note About Being Present

Years ago, after a successful “cheese experience” (yes, I am a certified trainer in the “Who Moved My Cheese” method), my organization decided to further use pop psychology and management books to inspire an attitude change in our geographically disparate staff, who’d been through many organizational changes and paradigm shifts, and was adapting unevenly (as is natural). The sequel to our cheesy (couldn’t resist the pun) workshop was a fishy (another obvious pun) one, based on another popular book, Fish! Philosophy.

The book refers to an experience in organizational change inspired by the famous Pike Place Market in Seattle, where the fishmongers transformed their dreary and smelly workplace into a locus of fun, by following what the author identified as four basic principles:

1. Choose your attitude, meaning that while one cannot change the content of their work, one can choose how to approach it: as a burden or chore that you go through grudgingly, or as an opportunity to learn, perfect skills (no matter how basic), meet people, engage colleagues, etc.

Think about the lady behind a public service counter. She chooses to be grumpy, and unhelpful because some real and some imagined wrongs of her workplace. But she could equally choose to be nice and courteous, earning herself if not more money at least some goodwill. She could say I don’t know, or after the question popped up, she could choose to inform herself so that she would know the next time. It sounds naive, but is surprisingly efficient, and it is a matter that rests solely with the individual.

2. Play. Play is a bit harder, because it means finding a fun element in your work. Some jobs seem to have no fun at all. But the fishmongers were able to transform unloading fish into a contest of skill, peppered with jokes, so the lesson is that anything can become fun, if approached playfully and with an intent to discover its creative elements (while keeping within the bounds of respect).

3. Make their day means making a deliberate effort to engage the customer and leave them with a positive feeling. Whether this is a nice compliment, or a smile, or a context appropriate joke, make their day refers to focusing on the customers well being in a non-sales way. For example, a massage therapist will make the customer feel good, but that’s a paid service. Make their day is above that, it’s the nice tip and demonstration on how to self massage the soles of your feet for relief after a day in heels, the compliment about your necklace, or something small, but centered on you, the customer.

4. Be present is probably the easiest and the hardest. It means to be in the moment, to service the customer with your attention upon the service and upon what the customer is saying, not upon your aunt’s bunions, or the cat food that you have to buy upon leaving work. A classic example of NOT being present is when the customer that walks up to the fast-food counter and asks for 3 orders of large fries and mayo, and the server replies “Do you want fries with that?”. Uh, no.

Why am I writing this?

Because I’ve been struggling with placing an online order worth approximately 900 euros and my card payment just doesn’t go through. I’ve talked to the card company and the bank, and the problem is not with the card. So I wrote to the online trader explaining the difficulty, quoting the bank and Mastercard’s response and asking whether a) he can check and fix the issue or 2) he can provide a non-card payment option.

The answer was “We accept payments made with the following credit cards: VISA, MasterCard, AMEX, VISA Debit, VISA Delta, Maestro, and Electron. Our books are priced in Sterling, Euros, US Dollars, Australian Dollars, New Zealand Dollars, Singapore Dollars and Canadian Dollars – there is a select currency dropdown menu at the top right of the homepage to change the currency display into the one most appropriate for you. We charge in the currency selected.”

Well, that really helped.

This is the type of canned response that indicates to the customer that the company doesn’t even bother to read my message, let alone investigate the issue. And it’s preventing me from making a rather large purchase of 30 different items, and attempting future purchases.

Simply put, if an employee is not present, not attentive to the customer’s concerns, the company suffers. It doesn’t take much to be present, just the will to do so. Companies should explain the principle to their employees, train them in its use, and monitor its application. Being present is a personal choice. Employing people who are not present is an organizational one.


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