The Do’s and Don’ts of Customer Interaction

After a bad customer call experience went viral, we came up with four points to keep in mind when you engage in customer service.

No doubt, by now you will have heard about the Comcast customer service representative who basically wouldn’t let one of their customers cancel their service.

If you haven’t taken the time to read about it or listen to the recording of the conversation, I strongly recommend you do so. I’ll be honest: I was appalled by the extent that the customer service rep was going to dissuade the customer from cancelling his Comcast service, and my guess is that you’ve had a similar experience to that infamous phone call.

Upon further evaluation, I’ve realized something: I am fully confident that the reason why the Comcast rep acted this way was not because he was having a bad day, or that he would possibly be considered a “scummy sales guy” (or anything of that nature). I think the main reason why this shocking conversation took an ugly turn was because someone in Comcast management — maybe even just that rep’s manager — failed to keep the customer in mind when training his or her employees.

This recently-viral experience has motivated me to put together a short list of “do’s and don’ts” in terms of customer interaction. This will not be a bashing session on Comcast by any means, because I think that some of these customer interaction tips especially apply to those in the janitorial industry.

  • DO treat your customers like people: This can be a bit difficult for us in the jan/san industry, because we almost always deal on a business-to-business (B2B) level. That said, behind every business decision is a supervisor, manager or decision-maker with flesh and blood. No, the person with whom you communicate may not always see eye-to-eye with you on everything, but they do deserve your respect. Be patient with a customer, and they’ll recognize that you are doing all you can to resolve their concerns and strengthen the relationship and experience they are having with your business.
  • DON’T think of it as an “us versus them” relationship: Clearly your business and the customer’s business are different (otherwise, why would you be working with them?). With that comes a difference in perspective. That said, interacting with customers need not be an exercise in banging your head against a wall — so have the patience to recognize that there’s a good chance that both parties want the same thing (a mutually-beneficial relationship). There will be times, such as when a customer calls to cancel their service no matter what, when the end result isn’t one that will help everyone. In these cases, remember that it’s often better to simply let a customer go. As Comcast found out the hard way, a failure to let things go (especially now that social media is so widely-used) can create a powerful enemy.
  • DO train your employees to see that relationships are important: A huge company like Comcast didn’t get where they are because they just leave their employees alone, to figure out their job responsibilities and processes without any help or direction. They got to the top of their industry because they take the time to train their employees on how to respond to their customers. While the end result mentioned earlier is far from ideal, the focus on fully training employees is something that any business wanting to excel should follow.
  • DON’T focus everything on the bottom line: Where I think Comcast’s training failed in this case was that something intended to be a long-term benefit for all Comcast customers was twisted and misunderstood. Asking “what could we have done better?” is a great way to find out where you can improve for other customers moving forward, but training your employees to not cater to the customer’s request until that question is asked — without exception, it appears — is a surefire recipe for disaster. Focusing too much on the process, instead of the customer, may not cause problems all the time, but it can and will blow up in your face at some point.

In case I didn’t make it clear, the key to good customer interaction — whether it be company-wide, or on an individual basis — is to interact with the customer. As we learned from Comcast, don’t talk at the customer, talk with the customer. When both sides feel validated and fully understood by the other party, the odds of that interaction ending on a happy note go up significantly. Comcast issued an apology within days after that ill-fated phone call, but the damage has already been done.

Like I mentioned earlier, both parties in most customer interactions want the same thing: a mutually beneficial relationship that will satisfy everyone. What is deemed “mutually beneficial” may be different for each person, it is true, but the understanding of that simple idea will help you strengthen relationships with prospective and current clients.


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