The reality of the customer relationship is that the two parties are not on equal terms. Businesses exist to serve customers, and as such, business professionals must embrace the challenge of attempting to understand the customer, they must embrace the responsibility of empathy.
To deliver effective customer care, we need to understand that we do not know what the customer went through prior to the transaction. As powerfully demonstrated in this excellent customer service training video, every customer has a story. Even though the majority will never mention what is going on in their lives when transacting business with us, they want us to implicitly understand that their dog just died, that they were just diagnosed with an illness, or that they just received an eviction notice.
We must make the effort to understand the customer, and we must understand that the customer does not need to extend us the same courtesy. It might not be fair, it might not even be just, but in customer service, empathy need only travel in one direction.
Sure, we all wish our customers understood that two people got the flu, one went into labor, and one quit without notice — all on Monday — and that’s why the order did not go out on time. Or that our small business runs on a discount web host for $10 a month and when that host went down the key email we were sending on their behalf disappeared into the cyber-abyss. Or that our multinational company’s CRM system is an amazing tool that successfully handles a million transactions a day but that our local office can not customize it for their needs.
Of course, we wish that our customers understood that every business has a story too, but that’s not how the relationship works.
As customer facing professionals, it is our responsibility to overcome our natural inclination to expect fairness and disabuse ourselves of the notion that the customer is expected to treat us in the same way we treat them. In fact, one of the first steps in adopting a great customer service mindset is embracing the idea that the customer relationship is not an equal one, that we are there to serve the customer and not the inverse.
This does not mean that the customer is exempted from the basics of human decency or from the abuse exception, but it does mean that the responsibility of the relationship is on us.
Customer service is not a two way street, but if you do it right, it can still get you where you want to go.