Twice this month I was asked to mark the highest ratings on customer service surveys. Ironically, in both situations, I did not receive the highest quality customer service. In the first situation I received extremely poor customer service. The gentleman I worked with seemed unhappy. He expressed that unhappiness by being inappropriately brief, noticeably rude, and expressing overt frustration even in response to thoughtfully constructed and considerate questions. I got the sense that I was inconveniencing him simply by being there. He asked me if I wanted an oil change while my vehicle was in for service. I asked him if his technicians would evaluate the condition of my oil and let me know whether or not a change was necessary. He told me that there is no diagnostic test available to determine whether or not oil needs to be changed. I was surprised by that information. Frankly, I found it slightly suspect.
I wondered why the technicians at my neighborhood oil shop show me the dipstick, and then direct my attention to the color of the oil as an indication of its capacity to function well within my vehicle. I’ve since been assured by multiple sources (even a few reliable ones) that it is possible to determine whether or not an oil change is necessary. Even if this gentleman wasn’t aware of that, from a customer service perspective, he might have told me that his team will take a look and that he’ll call me with the their recommendation.
The results may not have been conclusive, but again, through a customer service lens, an effort and a dialogue would have gone a long way in building trust and easing the monetary sting of this particular visit. Paradoxically, there’s a huge sign directly above the entryway of this establishment that reads, “service.” One would think that the priority might be to provide just that in a thorough and comprehensive way. In fact, I am fairly certain that it is the goal, because again, this person asked me to rate the service as exemplary. It was the outcome he sought. He was looking for me to communicate an outstanding customer service experience yet he didn’t provide one. His actions did not compliment his hopes.
The other scenario in which I was asked to mark the highest ratings on a customer service survey this past month was not nearly as egregious. The service I received in that situation was fine, and fine is good…but it’s not great. Fine is not excellent. Fine is not phenomenal. When I think of the highest ratings possible, I think of great, excellent, and phenomenal…not fine.
Let’s be clear, I was satisfied in both situations. In large part it was because I actively and thoughtfully guided both situations. I worked with the customer service representatives involved, I listened patiently, I question and responded respectfully, I reflected and adapted my communication as needed, I celebrated forward progress, and I was overtly appreciative. In both situations the customer service representative thanked me in the end. They each articulated appreciation for my patience, and each of them suggested that most customers get angry, argumentative, and pointedly accusatory. Based on the number of kind and considerate people I know personally, I have trouble believing that that’s entirely accurate. Regardless, they each expressed a level of surprise in that I didn’t (get angry, argumentative, and pointedly accusatory). And again, they each told me that I would be receiving a survey, and that it would be extremely helpful if I were to mark the highest ratings possible. They smiled and thanked me preemptively for that. Respectively, it was the best customer service moment of each situation.
I was in food service and retail for almost fifteen years before I went into education. I’ve worked behind many counters and I’ve served many people. For much of that time I was responsible for human resources and training. I have much to learn, but I do know that customers are not responsible for pleasant and productive interactions during customer service scenarios…customer service representatives are. The axiom, “the customer is always right” is not meant to indicate that the customer is actually always right. It’s meant to indicate that the customer should always feel valued. I have no problem with customer service representative asking for high ratings on surveys. What I would prefer however, is that before they do, that they provide great, excellent, and even phenomenal customer service.
Good news, I happen to believe (and have witnessed repeatedly) that intentional reflection can foster intentional outcomes. If the customer service representatives that I worked with this past month are finding a multitude of angry, negative customers, who respond in unpleasant ways, they might consider modifying their own strategies. Especially if they’re motivated to receive the highest ratings on customer service surveys, they might consider an augmented approach. They might match their desired outcomes with their current practice, and through intentional reflection, consider wherein lie breaks in the chain. Through that style of intentional reflection, connected analysis, and open adaptation, any one of us can enhance our practice…to whatever ends we aspire.
As a parent and an educational leader, customer service is a cornerstone of my practice. Among the most important aspirations I have for those that I serve are joyful, meaningful, and fulfilling growth experiences. Some signs of my success in that aspiration are the sustaining of genuine and trusting relationships, the authentic and mutual communication of critical feedback, and the shared enthusiasm for collaboration. I feel entirely comfortable asking individuals that I serve to consider those and multiple other ideas, and I work hard to supplement that asking with sincere efforts to perpetuate a culture in which those ideas can thrive.
Most importantly, when situation arise that challenge that culture, I reflect. I reflect with intention. I reflect with desired outcomes in mine. I reflect with humility, an open-mind, and a willingness to learn, grow, and change. It’s actually quite simple. Consistent and intentional reflection holds me accountable for the changes I know I need to make, it allows me to celebrate the growth I’ve made so far, and it gives me a platform by which to discern the differences between the two. As I mentioned above, I have much to learn. I consistently find that intentional reflection is one of the most effective strategies for doing so.
Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.