Customer Service Is Not a Two-Way Street

July 5, 2012

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.

Customer Service Is Not A Two Way Street | One Way Sign

But shouldn’t that empathy run both ways?

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.

6 thoughts on “Customer Service Is Not a Two-Way Street”

  1. Adam, this is a great rule of thumb to consider in any conflict we have with anyone, even people close to us, or customers we’ve had for a while. The way they’re reacting is not necessarily about you, but is quite possibly a reflection of the experiences they’ve had with others like you, or in similar situations.

    If a customer has been ripped off by another service provider or believe they were, they’re going to have a hard time trusting you completely, no matter how glowing your testimonials. If a customer has been treated like a child by another service provider, they may believe you’re being patronizing when you’re trying to explain something to them. If a customer has been abandoned by another service provider in the middle of a project, they may be very sensitive to any delays they experience with the project you’re working on.

    Step #1 is to put our OWN experiences aside (for example, a bad experience we might have had with another customer), so we don’t take what’s happening personally.

    1. You make a great point Michelle. Customers can really bring some “baggage” with them into the relationship — whether it be stresses in their personal life or past experiences with other businesses — and those can really impact how they react to situations and to our attempts to fix them.

      And you’re right, step 1 is to focus inwardly on our own reactions so we are part of the solution and not part of the problem.

  2. Pingback: What Kills a Customer Relationship?

  3. Empathy is a good trait to have especially if you are in a customer service related field. Most of the time, you have no idea what is going on in someone’s life; what their mindset is when the transaction is being conducted.

    The responsibility of the relationship is on us and we need to act accordingly, right?

  4. Pingback: You’re Not That Important.

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