In previous posts [(1)(2)(3)(4)], we defined authenticity in customer service as not only genuine behavior, but a genuine desire to do what is best for the customer. Both aspects of the definition are required to make magic happen. In this post, we’re going to check out a couple examples of authentic behavior in a customer service environment where genuine behavior is definitely present, but the desire to do what is best for the customer is certainly nowhere to be found. This is the flip side of authenticity in customer service: I’m PO’ed and I’m gonna share it!
Steven Slater became the poster child for and hero of ticked off employees everywhere when he grabbed his beer and slid down the escape chute of his Jet Blue airplane. The Internet has not yet grown weary of re-examining Steven’s actions that day. His reaction was so over the top that it almost makes the frustration he must have felt that day palpable to any of us who can claim some degree of empathy. And the accolades he received from the employed-and-frustrated across America is a clear affirmation that the average worker can relate to his stress level that day. It’s a fantastic example of authencity. There is is no doubt that he said and did exactly what was in his heart at that moment. Too bad it’s become a horrible blot on Jet Blue’s customer service reputation.
A more recent example involves a fantastically authentic AT&T customer service representative rant on Twitter. Rachael Pracht, the CSR in question, railed against a TechCrunch review that highlighted AT&T’s track record of dropped calls on the iPhone and discussed the upcoming Verizon service. Siegler relates the exchange in AT&T Customer Service Rep Tells Us How She Really Feels: “This Is Bullsh*t”. Rachael’s rant echos the frustration of Steven Slater, but she takes it to the next level by choosing a medium that’s effectively a real-time public broadcast. After identifying herself as an AT&T CSR, Rachael states, “This entire article is garbage because it’s all based on an opinion of someone who assumes everything. Thanks anyway.” Kudos on the authenticity. The words make the reader feel as if a direct connection was established between thought and tweet. However, as you might imagine, AT&T wasn’t so thrilled. Siegler reports that “Pracht’s account has been suspended by Twitter now. We do know that AT&T is looking into the situation.” Plus Siegler is now even more stoked about his move to Verizon.
They’re looking into the situation. Yeah, that doesn’t sound too good for Rachael.
Although it feels good to sound off under stress, we always need to remember that as paid employees we do represent more than ourselves. This little detail is important to keep in mind when the desire to do what is best for the customer begins to wane. And if a customer is being difficult, it’s our responsibility to find more productive outlets for our frustration.
In previous posts [(1)(2)(3)], we focused on authenticity in customer service. Being authentic in customer service means that the customer service rep demonstrates a genuine desire to do what is right for the customer. But what if what is right for the customer is not what the customer says he or she wants – or is asking for? The customer isn’t always right, and being authentic sometimes means letting them know.
Take, for example, a blog post we really enjoyed written by a guy named Rob – entitled “How to Detect a Toxic Customer”. Sometimes, your potential customers are vast reservoirs of viscous, acerbic sludge that will pollute the health of your company at best, or at worst, vaporize you upon contact. Citing a specific story in which he interacted with a toxic customer, Rob writes:
Few things are worse than supporting a demanding, entitled customer who feels that their purchase price buys them control over your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
In the end, it turns out that all the demands of Rob’s customer were completely unnecessary and overly complicated. (The Toxic Customer was eventually booted from his liaison role by another representative from the same company – who turned out to be much more civil and sane, and in fact – easy to work with.) At each point in the conversation with the Toxic Customer, Rob respectfully focused on his expressed desires (even though those desires seemed to be excessive). On the surface, Rob’s behavior could be perceived as authenticity. However, the real authenticity in this situation was demonstrated when Rob really started to question the expressed desires of the customer with boldness and tact.
The old adage “the customer is always right” isn’t always right – especially if we rely on the customer to be able to accurately express his needs. Great customer service is a partnership. Authenticity can mean pulling the plug on the relationship if that partnership can’t be effectively achieved.
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 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.