In customer service, pride is a double-edged sword. Pride in your organization can cause team members to go the extra mile. However, pride of the don’t-disprespect-me variety can cause team members to respond unfavorably to upset customers. When the personal reaction to an unhappy customer trumps the professional reaction, pride has won, and your organization has lost.
As much was we strive to setup customer service systems that proactively create great customer experiences, we will fail our customers on occasion. Sometimes it happens because we failed to deliver, sometimes it happens because of circumstances beyond our control, and sometimes it happens because even flawlessly executed our performance was not to the satisfaction of the customer.
We can be as proactive as we want; there will always be times when we need to react to a dissatisfied customer.
And it is in the reaction to dissatisfied customers that pride becomes a problem.
In many years working with employees and management on customer service, one of the biggest impediments I have seen to giving great reactive service has been the professional’s pride. From a psychological standpoint, most of us have been programmed to take the reactions that are typical of upset customers as disrespect or rudeness. Raised voices, sharp comments, angry ultimatums — all of these reactions are part and parcel of servicing customers, but they are also actions that can provoke a undesirable subconscious response.
Upset customers will push people’s buttons (if you don’t agree, then you’re not in retail). And it is your job as a customer experience professional to un-press those buttons, to react as a person whose job it is to delight the customer and not as a person who needs to buoy their self-esteem by “winning” the argument. If you want to create a world-class experience for your customers, then always remember…
Unless you are the company’s legal counsel, taking crap from customers is your job.
And therein lies the challenge. Personal reactions are natural reactions. However, part of what separates humans from animals is the ability to supplant instinctual reaction with conscious decision making. As a group, we are able to overcome our reactions, and act within the context of a larger framework. As individuals, some of us are better at it than others.
The inability of some to depersonalize conflict behaviors is one reason I disagree with the assertion that anyone can be trained to be great at customer service. While I do believe that anyone who has the ability to be a good employee has the ability to deliver a create proactive customer experience (in other words anyone who cares enough to go beyond the bare minimum), when you get into reactive service, particularly into problem management, the subset gets smaller.
Some people just aren’t constituted to handle it well. They cannot detach themselves, and they take the customers’ criticisms personally. They get their back up and being right becomes more important that winning the customer over.
If you win the argument, you almost always lose the customer.
I think the issue of pride in customer service is rarely talked about because it is difficult to address. It’s easy to drop platitudes like always be professional (I do it too), but in my experience, platitudes are not enough to over come basic human emotions and reflexive reactions. You need something stronger than professionalism — you need a mission. A mission to make sure that every customer has a great experience, and a mission to try to right the wrong when that does not occur. To succeed at that mission, team members need the self-awareness to not sabotage their own dedication to the mission with reflexive responses and subconscious defense mechanisms.
Attempting to eliminate pride from the service experience is a challenge. Each individual is different and trying to suss out these traits in the interview process will not always be easy. Like any organizational position, success comes from hiring people with the right temperament for the position and giving them the tools to be successful.
I will discuss techniques for helping customer experience professionals overcome prideful reactions in a future post. For now, when training for customer service, discuss pride openly. Help your team become more self-aware. And then, most importantly, heed your own advice.
So, does pride goeth before a bad customer experience? Have you ever had someone give you bad service because they wanted to be right not helpful? Have you ever delivered service below your own standards because your pride got in the way?
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.