Getting to Great: Authenticity in Customer Service

A Facebook friend wrote a status update yesterday that caught my eye. He was ranting about an interaction he had with a customer service rep, saying “Does ‘customer service rep’ mean liar nowadays? They B.S. so much they should be in politics. And returning phone calls? Forget it.”

His experience, as well my own recent negative experiences with customer service reps, begs the question: What’s wrong with customer service these days?

What’s wrong is that authenticity is missing. It’s been overhyped, oversold, and underrepresented (in many cases). Some even argue that authenticity is dead. To be authentic means to be genuine, or alternatively, to portray facts accurately. As a result, authenticity is a behavior as well as a value. When authenticity is a value, you’ll have a true desire to help the customer and better understand their needs. For a customer service rep, being authentic means you continually work to build trust between a company and its customers.

Trust between a customer and the company that a customer service person represents results from combining authentic behavior with an authentic desire to do what’s best for the customer. Both aspects of authenticity are demonstrated when great customer service happens – meaning you can truly get somewhere – but what happens when one (or both) of these aspects are missing?

  • Getting Somewhere: Zappo’s has an unparalleled reputation for genuine, heartfelt, helpful customer service. Testimonials written by previously irate customers are typically gushing. Zappo’s reps don’t work from a script, and handle bizarre scenarios with amazing finesse.
  • Getting By: The recent antics of a JetBlue flight attendant caught the attention of the nation. Many people view Steven Slater as a hero, envying the freedom of expression embodied in a trip down an airplane escape slide. But certainly his profanity-riddled monologue made it clear that the best interests of the customer were no longer a concern.
  • Getting Blocked: Stephen R. Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust, describes an incident where a very apologetic customer service rep refused to take back an unopened stereo without an “inspection by Electronics” that was required by company policy. After waiting more than 10 minutes, the inspector arrived and agreed that “yeah, the box is unopened.” The return happened, but not without time wasted and tempers flared.
  • Getting Outta Here: Customer Lip Service provides an excellent example of how scripted behavior and a disinterest in what’s best for the customer are a toxic combination. Over 18 excruciating and painstaking days, a company erodes the trust of a once loyal and long-term customer by bludgeoning him with mindless scripted scenarios. The end result? The customer takes his business elsewhere, choosing to use a lesser product instead.


authentic behavior +

authentic desire to do what’s best for the customer (empathy) =


great customer service (which is great because it builds trust)


This reflection was inspired by thinking about the value proposition from My Customer Cloud.


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