• March 1, 2014
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Excellent Customer Service Begins with Self-Evaluation

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Work is hard; that's why somebody pays you to do it for them. One of the things that makes it hard is failing to manage expectations. Knowing how a situation is going to affect you goes a long way toward making it less difficult. If you can step outside your head and look at your behavior objectively, you'll have a better sense of your capabilities and limitations.

Wait, you thought I meant managing your customers' expectations? No, no—that's the easy part. We already know customers today want everything and they want it now, so all you have to do is underpromise and overdeliver and you're golden. You may not be able to truly control your customers, but you can control you.

One thing to consider is your personal outlook on life—the way you see the world and your role within it. Some folks are salespeople by nature, as I'm sure you've noticed. They enjoy the challenge of convincing others to do things, and will thrive in an environment where they can do that. Some are natural communicators, storytellers, and marketers. And that's only the beginning.

Me? I'm made to solve problems—I'm at my best when I can do for somebody else, troubleshooting their complaints and empathizing with their situation. You might say I have a service-oriented emotional architecture. This isn't to say I can't do other things, but I have to change my frame of reference first. And I am an absolutely horrible salesman; I couldn't sell ice water to my own mother on a hot day. This added to the challenge in the days when I was reporting on sales, but at least I wasn't working on commission.

Another thing to consider is how far you are willing to go in pursuit of an outcome. It's all very well to say, "The customer is always right," a la Selfridge, but another thing to practice it and still another to go all out with it (and you probably shouldn't). The long-term value of a customer is typically greater than that of any single transaction with that customer, so it's usually wise to bend policy and practice in order to keep one. But how much greater is that value? How much are you prepared to give away, and how much aggravation are you willing to put up with, to keep them coming back?

If you're in a leadership position, you have to consider how you will lead. Do you delegate? Lead by example? Coach? Leadership is a blend, but everybody has a go-to technique. If yours is to micromanage, maybe you should try self-employment.

Are you willing to eat crow for the greater good? (Hint: It's never good for the crows.) Sometimes office morale requires you, whether you're a boss or a low-level worker, to be wrong, even embarrassingly so. Knowing where your line is, how humiliated you're willing to be and how often, can make the difference between whether you have a functioning team or a toxic environment you dread walking into every morning.

None of this is to suggest that people can't succeed in jobs they're not temperamentally suited for; we aren't machines, so we are able to adapt to our environments. But the effort you expend to deal with suboptimal conditions is effort diverted from your main responsibility: giving your customers a consistently excellent experience.

Marshall Lager is the man in the know at Third Idea Consulting, figuring out what’s at the heart of the matter. Come navel-gaze with him at www.3rd-idea.com, or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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