Customer Deflections

Companies spend tons of money to attract customers. They invest a small fortune to train their salespeople to professionally represent their products. (At least the good ones do) They hire people to provide service to those customers after the salespeople earn their business. 

The best salespeople “sell” that customer service as a benefit of doing business with their company. 

Those things have always been pretty much standard business practice. Finding new customers and earning their repeat business has always been considered a good investment for a company.

But today some companies are developing something like a split personality. While they continue to invest in attracting new customers they are beginning to see retaining those customers as an expense. 

As we all know well run companies look for new ways to reduce expenses at every opportunity. That’s not the problem…the problem is seeing customer service as one of those expenses to be cut.

Some companies are investing in research to determine an acceptable level of customer intolerance. That means they are trying to figure out just how crummy their customer service can be without losing their customers. Providing a higher level of customer service than the company absolutely has to is considered waste. 

Those same companies send their people to training but not to learn how to better serve their customers. The training is on how to “deflect” customers away from the customer service department. “Progressive” customer service departments “deflect” customers to ChatBots or websites. Sometimes even into an endless loop of holds and transfers. 

This might be upsetting to the customer but just so long as the customer’s intolerance level isn’t exceeded all is well. The customer might not agree. They likely believe they deserve better. 

Some service organizations are actually showing reports with the number of customers they “successfully” deflect each month. I pity the poor salesperson who works their tail off only to have their customers “deflected” to some ChatBot. 

Can you tell I’m a little irritated with this new way of thinking? One thing I can say with a very high degree of confidence is that this will never become an old way of thinking. That’s because companies who adopt it won’t be around for long. 

The consultant who “sold” these companies on the word “deflect” should be embarrassed. 

The word should be banned in any conversation that involves a customer.

Words matter. When a customer care manager tells their team they are trying to deflect customers the signal it sends is completely wrong. It negatively affects even the calls that are accepted. The calls tend to be shorter, more abrupt and less helpful. The goal becomes to get the customer off the phone as soon as possible.

Here’s a couple of questions for companies who have adopted this “deflection” strategy. Do you think your customers would like knowing they are being deflected? Are you willing to show your customers the charts and graphs about how many of them you “successfully” deflected?

Remember if you have to hide information from your customers then you may have an ethics problem. 

Companies that invest in technology to help them deflect customers see it as improving their bottom line. I look at it as decreasing their integrity. That’s because their salespeople are still trying to sell excellent customer service as a benefit. Except excellent customer service has become a mirage.

I’ve never seen a stupid customer in my life and if you’re honest neither have you. They may have been misinformed or misunderstood something but that doesn’t make them stupid. They will eventually figure the goal is to “deflect” them and they will respond exactly the way we all would. 

There are still plenty of companies that have no plans to deflect their customers away from their human customer care teams. The customers who experience being “deflected” will find one of them. Then companies that deflect won’t have to worry about the “expense” of having those customers anymore.

They Said Yes, Now What?

The most successful salespeople know that when their customer says yes the relationship is just beginning. Less successful salespeople too often think that when the customer says yes the relationship is now closed.

That’s one of the reasons when I do Sales Training I try to avoid the term “closing the sale.” I use “earn the buying commitment” instead. I want the salespeople to understand that nothing is closed. Nothing is over. The customer has made a commitment to the salesperson and their product and they expect a commitment in return. 

“Closed,” at least when it comes to relationships has a terrible connotation to it. Nobody, not ever, has wanted to be “closed.” I mean really, is there a worse place to be than in the “closing room” at a car dealership?

When the customer says yes they expect every promise and every commitment that the salesperson made to be honored.  They expect them to be honored in a timely fashion with no hassles. They expect the price to be as quoted. They expect the delivery to happen on the date promised. They expect all paperwork and billing to be completed correctly. They expect their calls to be returned and all questions answered. They expect their calls returned quickly. 

They expect whatever it is they have purchased to work as promised and be free of defects. 

In short, they expect exactly what you would expect. The thing that amazes me is how many people will sell something only to “provide” a lower level of service then they would be willing to accept if they were the customer. 

As a professional salesperson, and as a human being, you will never go wrong fully honoring your commitments. When you take care of your customers your customers will take care of you. 

The Customer is Always Right

There is an excellent Grocery Store chain in the Northeastern United States. It’s called Stew Leonard’s. In the grocery business there is formula that determines the retail volume you should expect given the square footage of your space. The bigger the store the more retail volume…seems pretty basic. 

Except Stew Leonard’s has always been known to blow past that formula. In theory they should not be able to sell as much as they do given the size of their stores. 

But their most basic business principle has always been, “The Customer is Always Right.”

That principle is so important that they have it etched into a three-ton granite rock that is placed near the entrance to their store. It also includes an equally important second principle, or rule if you will. 

On the rock you’ll see: “Our Policy – Rule 1: The customer is always right! Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1!”

Now that’s kinda nice in principle but we all know in real life it’s a bunch of bull. Except it’s not. Not for the most customer centric businesses anyway. 

When I do Customer Service training I’ll begin by asking the groups about their roles as customer service representatives. I want to know what they think their job is. I get all the usual answers and for the most part they are pretty accurate. 

But I have never gotten the one answer I’m looking for. The answer I’m most looking for is this: “to make the customer right.” 

When everyone, not just customer service people, but everyone in an organization sees their fundamental responsibility as “making the customer right” you’ll have customers beating a path to your door. 

Making the customer right can sometimes mean influencing an often emotional customer to think differently about the situation. Sometimes it can mean adjusting your organization’s policy on the fly. Sometimes it can just mean changing your way of thinking… actually it will almost always mean changing your way of thinking. 

It means changing your way of thinking from “how can I show this customer they are wrong to how can I make this customer right.” It means changing our mentality to one of “winning” a dispute with a customer to one of winning the customer for life. 

Making the customer right can sometimes seem impossible. Sometimes the customer doesn’t exactly motivate us to want to help them be right. But seeming impossible is not the same as being impossible. It is also not the customer’s responsibility to motivate us to help them. 

Of this I am certain; if you do not always put the customer first in your business then you run the risk of becoming the last place they want to do business with. 

That doesn’t seem to be worth the risk to me so never forget rule #1, the customer is always right…even if you have to work some magic to make it so!

The Death of Customer Service

I’ve written about this topic before but “new” concepts in Customer Service keep popping up so I have to keep smacking them down.

One of the newest says that customers aren’t really customers….they are personas that have to be “dealt with.”

Wow, that really sounds like the right mindset for providing decent customer service to the people who buy your products so that you can stay in business so that you can feed your family and have a roof over your head.

Those “personas” are the people who pay for everything a business AND their employees own. When a company forgets that the customers, those pesky people who the company exists to serve, tend to go away.

And go away is exactly what they should do!

If you are in business then you are in the people business. If you refuse to acknowledge people are human beings and insist on calling them baggage, personas, problem causers, or whatever else you want to call them you’ll be out of business soon enough. The sad thing is how many people you’ll have frustrated along the way.

If you’re in business stop throwing money away on the latest Customer Service fad. Start treating your customers with the same decency and respect that you expect when you’re a customer.

It’s really that easy. Remember, you are in business to serve your customer. You are in business to help your customers. You are in business to solve problems for your customers. Are you getting this yet…you are in business for your customer’s benefit.

Your business is ALL ABOUT your customers.

Yes, you need to make money but if that’s your primary focus you can’t last. If you treat customers, every customer, with dignity and respect they will tell people about it. Those people will beat a path to your door. You will be making more money than you ever imagined.

You cannot go wrong taking care, showing care, and truly caring for your customer.

If some “professional” Customer Service Training Company tries to sell you or your company on the latest “fad” in customer service don’t even talk to them unless the customer, the real customers who keep your business in business, is at the center of that training.

If that so called training company calls a customer by any name other than customer you don’t need that kind of help. A customer by any other name will not feel valued the way they should.

Your people don’t need tricks, fads, or buzz words to help your customers. They need Human Relations Skills, also known as People Skills, because if you’re in business then you’re in the people business.

The day you forget that isn’t only the day your Customer Service dies, it’s also the day you start going out of business.

Calm Seas

I’ve never met a sailor who didn’t prefer sailing on calm seas. Who can blame them, it’s just easier. Everyone likes easy.

But here’s the thing, almost all of us are paid to navigate choppy seas. If you’re in sales this is especially true. Sales by my definition is changing someone’s attitude from neutral or even negative about your product, to a positive attitude. Positive enough to buy your product or service.

Those “seas” of changing someone’s attitude can be very very choppy.

If you’re in any type of customer service role you almost never experience calm seas. Customers seldom call or show up at your counter to tell you everything is perfect. It’s just the opposite, almost 100% of the customers you deal with are unhappy and it’s your job to turn that unhappiness into sheer delight. Sometimes the seas you navigate aren’t only choppy, they are downright hurricane like.

Almost every job and position have challenges. Thank goodness for that. If they were easy, if there were no headwinds, if there were never any problems, a whole lotta people would be out of work.

If customers were convinced your products were always the best and provided the best value then your company wouldn’t need any salespeople. If nothing ever broke then service people would be a thing of the past. If every customer was delighted every single time the role of customer service person would be history.

If there were no problems in business then a whole bunch of businesses would need a lot less people. You would never see the term “problem solver” on a résumé again.

All that being the case I find it amazing how many salespeople dislike having to convince people to buy their products. Service people can get bitter over constantly having to fix things that break. I’ve heard many people in customer service roles say how much easier their jobs would be if the customers would all just go away.

You and everyone else are not paid to sail your organization’s ship on calm seas. You are paid to navigate the rough spots. Your role likely exists in one way or another to solve or overcome problems. The very problems you may complain about from time to time, or maybe even more often than that.

When you stop and think of it like that it doesn’t make much since to complain…does it? So don’t complain! Be thankful for the challenges your job provides you because it’s those challenges that provide your income.

No job is perfect. No job is always easy. Every job has its challenges and that might be the best news you’ll hear all week.

You Haven’t and You Won’t Because You Can’t

Almost every business professes at least the desire to provide the highest caliber of customer service possible.

They name their customer support departments things like customer “care.” They talk about improving the customer “experience” all while failing to invest in the people who might actually care for those customers. The people who work for that business that professes the desire to “care” for their customers.

If you’re running a business that professes the desire to provide your customers with excellent customer service then you need to know that if you’re not caring for your own employees then you can’t provide a high level of service to your customers.

And if you’re not currently providing your employees with the tools and training they need to take care of your customers then you won’t be providing a high level of customer service anytime soon.

You can’t provide a high level of customer service if your employees feel undervalued, under appreciated and unprepared for the task.

I maybe haven’t said this in like an hour so let me repeat it. 100% of your employees are people. By an amazing coincidence 100% of your customers are people too. If your employees are unhappy and feel unsupported then you can bet your last dollar that your customers will be too.

If that situation persists you’ll be down to that last dollar a lot sooner than you think.

You simply cannot create happy customers by placing them in contact with unhappy employees. The fastest way to create an unhappy employee is by trying to manage them instead of leading them.

When I ask the owner of a business about their people I listen for how they describe them. When I hear a bunch of buzzwords like “our team members” or our “guest support staff” or my personal favorite “customer experience managers” I start to be concerned.

What I’m hoping to hear is about the PEOPLE of the organization. A solid, firm unmistakable understanding that the people who are expected to create happy customers are human beings. Human beings who have stuff going on in their life outside of work. Human beings who have goals and hopes and dreams just like a real person.

Human beings who need to be led because trying to manage another human being causes nothing but problems for the manager trying to manage them. You have not and you will not have a fully productive and engaged human being working for you if you’re trying to manage them instead of lead them. Because you can’t manage a human being. It’s just not possible.

Stop trying to create a great customer service department and start creating a great customer service culture. That culture begins with happy, supported and valued employees. That culture is only possible if you lead your people rather than manage them.

I’ll write a lot in the coming weeks on the difference between managing people and leading them. In the meantime consider investing less in the latest “new thing” in customer service. Invest instead in your people because only people have the ability to truly care for another person…like your customers for instance.

Your Best Investment

The best investment a business can make is an investment in their people. ALL of their people, not only the ones who work for the business but the ones who buy from the business as well.

Most business leaders agree that investing in the development of their people is essential to long-term growth. They see their people as an investment that pays limitless returns. Many of those same business leaders however see their customers as almost an expense. They want more customers but they want them with as little expense attached to them as possible.

When a business sees their customers as an expense they provide the lowest level of service possible without losing the customer. At least that’s their goal.

Businesses that see their customers as an investment do market research to determine what MORE they can do for their customers. Businesses that see their customers as an expense do market research to determine how much LESS they can provide them. Hopefully without losing them.

If you don’t think a business would do that “how much less” type of market research then you have been very lucky in avoiding the need to speak with certain companies that 99% of the population loves to hate. Those companies lead the way in what I would call “negative market research.” They bake a certain amount of customer “churn” into their annual plans with the understanding that’s it is cheaper to lose some customers than it is to invest in them.

If you have a cell phone or cable TV for instance you likely understand exactly what I’m talking about.

If you run a company and you see your customers as an expense then your customers will one day see you as a company too expensive to do business with.

Good companies invest in their customers, better companies invest in their people, great companies invest in both.

Providing consistently excellent service isn’t hard. But it takes constant effort and a realization that you’re never “there.” Even if the majority of your people see your customers as an investment if you have just one or two who don’t, the customers will find them. It’s almost like magic…in a bad way.

Are you investing in your people? All of your people? If not you’re missing an opportunity to grow your business at a much faster rate than you probably are today.

Invest in all of your people, it’s truly the best investment you can make.