Four roads we call customer service

Road 1: I can learn from you and make things better

Road 2: You’re an important customer and I can bring empathy and care to this moment to strengthen our relationship

Road 3: I can teach you something and make things better

Road 4: Go away

Now it begins to make sense. For example, if you call Hyatt’s 800 number, they’ll tell you that they’re not actually in contact with management. That all they can do is refer you to the front desk. They’re not there to learn anything from you.

If you call a company that puts you on hold for a long time, you’re on road 4. The organization has decided that you are a cost, not an asset.

Road 1 customer service is pretty rare. It tends to happen with very small organizations, and that’s one reason why companies appear callous and stuck when they get bigger. They don’t want to spend the resources to expose their decision-makers and creators to the people who actually use the product or service, so they build a moat around them. All they seek to learn is, “how cheap can we mollify customers?”

Road 2 and Road 3 can overlap. It’s entirely possible that the customer is upset or confused because they need training or insight or an explanation. By teaching them how to navigate their situation, you can improve satisfaction at the same time you rebuild a relationship.

Road 3 is often best done with the internet, with a manual, with a video. It’s a chance for the customer (who’s enrolled in getting their problem solved) to interact with a well-designed system that can teach them how to solve it. This can fall apart when the customer doesn’t actually want to learn, or worse, when the organization does a mediocre job of education.

Sometimes, though, the flight actually is cancelled, the software has a bug or the weather just isn’t what it needs to be. In that moment, education can help, but what matters more is clarity, respect and care. Most customers don’t actually expect miracles, but they certainly expect more than Road 4.

The harried commodity providers, the pawns in a monopolistic system that have chosen to race to the bottom, the airlines, the cable companies, the underfunded government agencies–all they have to offer is Road 4.

Go away.

If they had guts, they’d just say so.

If they had talent, they’d make you go away without actually being upset.

Instead, the on-hold industrial complex has created an endless maze, designed to sort through the slightly-annoyed and only serve the remaining truly-committed to getting to the bottom of it.

What a waste.

If you engage with customers, as a freelancer or as a public company CEO, pick your road. Be clear about what it’s worth and what it costs. And then do that.

The confusion about what you’re seeking to achieve helps no one.

[More on this in a previous episode of Akimbo.]