How to Create a Customer Service Mindset with One Question

Customer service is about attitude first, skills second. All of the product knowledge and technique training in the world will not produce results if a customer facing professional (CFP) is not trying to achieve success in the moment. A CFP must care enough about the final result to actively look for solutions and to shift from a reactive posture to a customer service mindset.

As a friend of mine says, hire the smile, train the skills.

However, even when you hire the smile, or when you get a natural welcomer as my friend Richard Shapiro calls them, the pressures of front line service can often overwhelm natural instincts to help, and for those who are not so naturally inclined towards a service mindset, the pressures of the line almost always overcome anything but the most effective training programs.

Instilling a Customer Service Mindset with One Question

In the hunt for shortcuts that can get customer facing professionals to embrace a customer service mindset in the shortest time possible, I have discovered a question that immediately helps shift a CFP’s perspective from reactions to solutions. That question:

How do I turn this into a win?

Of course, we are not talking about winning in the sense of a football game or winning a la Charlie Sheen; a win means a win-win — a resolution that leads to a happy customer and profitable company, either in the short or long term.

The question is meant as a simple one-line perspective shifter. It is an easy tool to help a CFP pull themselves out of reactive thinking such as “why is this customer yelling at me” or “this customer is being ridiculous” and to focus on what they can do to turn the situation into something that benefits both parties.

Is it a magic bullet? Of course not, there are no magic bullets in customer service. But as one line solutions go, this one is amazingly effective.

Talk about it with your staff, put it on your computer monitors, and post it on your intranet.

You’ll be surprised by the results.

How do you turn situations into a win? How do you train for this mindset?


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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18 replies
  1. Erica Allison
    Erica Allison says:

    Excellent question, Adam. Generating a win-win is ALWAYS better than a win-lose. They’re so difficult to accomplish however, for the folks you hire for the smile and hope to train along the way. Having a great training program and cultural indoctrination of your company and your brand go a LONG way, as does mentoring and modeling the behavior you hope to see in those ‘natural welcomers’. Great post!

    • Adam Toporek
      Adam Toporek says:

      You are so right Erica. Nothing can really take the place of a good training program. Nothing. So, I like this question as a quick shortcut for fast results.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Laura Click
    Laura Click says:

    Great question, Adam. And, I think it’s one that goes beyond customer service. Businesses should think in that way with ALL of their interaction with customers. Asking that question keeps the focus on what’s best for the customer instead of what’s best for you.

  3. Shakirah Dawud
    Shakirah Dawud says:

    I think that’s a very smart question, Adam–one that, as you say, isn’t a silver bullet, but at least gives people somethiing to reach for (a goal to satisfy a customer while not compromising the company’s rules of integrity) rather than avoid (I don’t care, make ’em stop yelling and go away).

  4. Bill Dorman
    Bill Dorman says:

    Great question to ask because it gets you out of the mindset of wanting to put the blame on someone else; not take responsibility. As in Jayme’s situation with the internet provider, there were two or three people she came in contact with who could have turned it into a much better experience just by asking that question.

    I told you about my restaurant experience on our anniversary. It could have gone south very quickly but the manager stepped in and turned it into a win.

    Another helpful tip is even if you can’t turn it into a perfect win, at least communicate with the person you are trying to help. Don’t say you will call back or do something by a certain time unless you plan on doing so. Just put yourself in the distressed person’s shoes and think how you would feel.

    I’m at Gini’s this afternoon (I think) if you can drop by; talk to you soon.

    • Adam Toporek
      Adam Toporek says:

      That’ a great point about Jayme’s experience. There were numerous instances when the company had a chance to turn it around, and taking this approach and asking this question definitely could have made the experience different.

      And you’re right Bill, it’s tough sometimes because intentions and actions sometimes don’t meet, yet either way, you have to be careful not set expectations that you are unlikely to meet.

  5. Michelle Quillin
    Michelle Quillin says:

    Adam, this post strikes right at the heart of what our customer expects the moment he signs on the dotted line — he wants to win! That outcome has to be our priority, and when things aren’t going the way he wants them to, it’s our responsibility to find a way to give him the experience of winning.

    And I’m not talking about using psychology to play with people’s minds, either. This is simply is about our customer knowing they’re important to us and their needs matter, even if we can’t deliver what they want (i.e. Jayme wanting the same service her neighbors have, when that service isn’t available at her address).

    What could the company have done for Jayme that would’ve given her that experience, and made her feel not like another dollar in their pocket, but a delight to do business with?

    • Adam Toporek
      Adam Toporek says:

      So true Michelle. “The outcome has to be our priority.” I think that sums up the whole point — focusing on the end result and not getting stuck in the moment.

      Thanks for the great comment!

  6. Charmaine
    Charmaine says:

    Customer service makes a huge difference in where I shop and make purchases. If salespeople ignore me or are rude, I will walk out of a store and make my purchase elsewhere. If a store has poor customer service, I will shop elsewhere. Some businesses like cable companies or telephone companies either ignore good customer service or go out of their way to provide good service — I will drop a company or move to a new company in order to give my business to a company that cares about me.

  7. Kaarina Dillabough
    Kaarina Dillabough says:

    How did I miss this?!

    I always say: hire for the “right stuff” and train for the rest. I also encourage staff to ask the question: “how can I solve the problem for you”, or “how can I make this right?” Then stop talking and hear what the customer has to say. Quite often, what will solve the problem from the customer’s viewpoint is far less than you might have been prepared to offer.

    Of course, sometimes we can’t solve a customer’s problem to their satisfaction, but by asking the question, the situation quickly lessens in intensity and potentially gets de-fused. Cheers! Kaarina

    • Adam Toporek
      Adam Toporek says:

      The “stop talking” part gets in the way of many CSR’s. It’s a key point … once you ask the questions, you need to actually listen to the answers. And you’re right, you can’t always deliver what they customer wants — but making the effort is important.

      Thanks for stopping by Kaarina!

  8. Renea
    Renea says:

    I tend to avoid stores that give me a hard time if I ever have to return something. To me, that’s poor customer service.


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