Got a Problem? There’s a Career for That. | Taking Service to Heart

Real jobs are born out of need. They’re created to solve problems. Solve those problems and create a win-win situation: The business profits and the customer/client is satisfied.

The better we are at solving problems, the more career opportunities we create for ourselves.

Accidental discoveries

I had the misfortune last month of being hit broadside in my new car by a woman who ran the red light while I was turning left off a green arrow. I was not hurt (thanks to my Subaru Outback which deserves a pitch here) and, so far as I know, the other driver only minimally.

A car accident is a problem. In a flash people appear on the scene to help solve it. Others provide help later. Each of these people has a job and a career because car accidents occur frequently. They make a lasting difference when their caring shows. I learned a lot from them.

Police officer–He gathers information for the incident report and later the accident report. Part of his job is to be sensitive to the state of mind of the victims and to be as calming as possible.

Emergency Medical Technician–His/her role is to assess the condition of the crash victims,  provide medical treatment if required, and get a release if either party doesn’t want to go to the hospital. S/he too needs to be observant, patient, and positive.

Tow truck driver–Two tow trucks were required at the scene; my driver was a woman which made me smile. Her job was to get the wreckage off the road quickly and to let me know where the car was being taken. She too was pleasant, efficient, and professional.

Insurance adjuster–The adjuster is the insured’s representative with the other insurance company. His job is to record my account of the accident over the phone. He and the other driver’s adjuster make a determination of fault. The adjuster explains the process, advises on next steps, and also needs to be patient and calming.

Material Damage Adjuster/Appraiser–The appraiser determines what the insurance company will pay in damages. This job requires the ability to communicate these hard numbers with the claimant in a way that demonstrates the fairness of the final decision. Just like the adjuster, the ability to be both factual and caring is important.

Body Shop/Salvage Company Staff–Along the way, my car took a stop at a body shop for a more detailed damage assessment. Then it went to the salvage company that purchased it. The staff and owner were professional, sincerely commiserating with my misfortune.

Rental Car Manager–I got a rental from Enterprise where the young woman manager took the time to make conversation before explaining the terms. It turned out that she was eager to develop her leadership capabilities, so we chatted about that. (When I returned the car, I gave her a copy of my book and she waived the gas charge. Okay, I’d only used 1/8 tank over two weeks, but the gesture was lovely.) She treated me like I mattered as a person.

Car Salesman–I called the salesman who sold me the original Outback and left a voice mail that I’d need a new one. He called me at home to cheer me up. He immediately set aside a car for me. I knew I was in good hands.

For my accident case alone, there are nine jobs, representing nine different career paths, that had been created because people like me get in car accidents.

Each role exists to solve a piece of a big problem, helping accident victims deal with and recover from a scaring and costly experience.

Distinguishing yourself

What has struck me most about this experience was the seemingly effortless caring that each person demonstrated. Every person in my chain had a heart for service.

I know that not everyone with a service jobs “gets it” and I’m sure you have a horror story to tell. But, if anything, this accident demonstrated that when you’re in a job that solves a problem for people and you really care, your commitment to serve will motivate your best performance. Let that be you, okay?

Please remember: Stay off your phone while driving. No texting. Wear your seat belt. Be attentive! :-) Thanks.

Photo from @Doug88888 via Flickr

Luck-of-the-Draw Customer Service—Which Card Are You?

Make a phone call. Go to the service desk. Ask for information or a fix and hope for the best. 

Some companies call it “customer care,” so we really get our hopes up. 

I once managed and, at times, ran a large call center. There were over 250 reps taking an endless stream of challenging customer calls. The most important part of their job was to be accurate and courteous, so the customer was satisfied and didn’t need to call back. 

It’s the same expectation for customer service employees at a department store, an auto repair shop, or a grocery store. Customers need help they can count on. 

Dismissing …Attempting…Caring 

Here’s the challenge: Customer service employees need to understand the customer’s needs, what a customer’s question really means, and how to resolve his/her issue. 

Customer service work isn’t for everyone. Some take off like rockets and achieve amazing things. Others plod along, making progress, slipping back, but eventually achieving competency. 

Some realize, in short order, that it’s not  for them. But they hang on because they need the job, and supervisors let them. 

When you and I need customer service, the rep we get to help us is purely the luck-of-the-draw. We may be talking to someone who: 

  • Dismisses our issue as either not the company’s responsibility, not really a problem, or outside of his/her authority (S/he’ll say, “You need to talk to my supervisor who isn’t in right now.”)
  • Attempts to piece together what they know with what they think we need, hoping that they’re saying and doing the correct things, when, actually, they’re not
  • Cares as a committed professional about resolving our issue completely, thoroughly, and efficiently, right now, while keeping us firmly in the loop 

Here’s how it recently played out for me. 

Let me see 

I bought new eye glasses a year ago at a retail chain. I dropped them and the metal frame broke at the nose piece. I went back to the store and showed them to the manager who informed me that “those frames were fragile.” (My interpretation: “Too bad lady!”) 

I had to buy a replacement frame for $100.00. When they came in, I returned to the store with my lenses and waited 35 minutes while a service employee struggled to put them together. (While there, her coworker told me that the frame I’d purchased—now twice—was, in her words, “crap.”) 

One week later, I returned to have the fit adjusted by the store manager. I mentioned that the right stem creaked when I moved it. He gave it a look and told me it worked “just fine.” 

Two weeks later, one of the lenses popped out of the frame and onto my dining room floor. I returned. The same nice employee put it back in. (She nicely said she couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t happen again.) 

Guess what? One week later, pop into the bathroom sink. Back I went. Yes, I was steaming inside but holding it together. This time I was helped by the “those frames are crap” employee. 

She talked to me, explaining that she would use a thicker line to hold the lens in place. She loosened the right stem, explaining that it was so tight it was pulling against the lens. (Remember, the manager told me it was A-okay!) 

Here’s how my hand was dealt: The manager (Joker) dismissed me. The first employee (Queen of ♥) tried unsuccessfully. Finally, I got a pro (Ace of ♦) who cared about doing it right and did. 

Be a winner 

We all have opportunities to provide service, whether it’s to our external or internal customers. Doing it right the first time matters to the customer and brands you. 

Unfortunately, many companies shoot themselves in their own service foot by setting up performance metrics that can discourage exceptional service. Our commitment to doing an outstanding job can overcome them. 

Giving our customers a winning experience is what sets us apart. Let’s always be the high card that shows up in their hand.   

Photo from Viri G via Flickr



10 Ways Customer Service Pros Are Wired

Does your blood run cold when you have to call a big company for service? Pressing 1 for this and 2 for that adds to the chill.

The music plays. The automated voice says, “All agents are busy with other customers. Please stay…” You know the drill. We’re desperate to hear a live voice before nightfall, hoping s/he’ll be able to help. 

Bad things happen, sometimes. 

We remember when they do. We get an agent and the call is dropped (intentionally?). We get transferred multiple times, explaining our need repeatedly. We’re constantly holding or waiting. 

I used to manage a 300-seat electric utility, call center. I know how demanding it is to process thousands of calls everyday. It’s stressful to reps and their supervisors. In spite of the demands, some are exceptional at it. Why? Because helping customers matters to them. 

These reps stay focused on the customers they’re talking to at the moment. It’s a special kind of laser commitment to one person, fixing things right the first time. They are pros wired to serve. 

The gold standard 

I recently installed DSL on my residential (consumer) phone line prior to taking it off my business line. Yesterday, I needed to re-point my email from one to the other. So I called Verizon, not really knowing what it would take. 

At first, I had my own IT technician on the phone with me. When the first rep wasn’t up the task, we called back and got Tyler who was on it like a shot. He explained that my job involved both consumer and business technical services. When he connected me to Sharman in business tech support, she grabbed hold of my situation and wouldn’t let go. 

I was on the phone with Sharman for four hours. She led me through many rings of fire by confronting misinformation, leveraging her internal relationships, and protecting my interests. Ultimately, the fix was made with Sharman testing it herself. 

Advocacy is the heart of customer service  

Reps truly wired to serve make positive results their mission by: 

  1. Understanding the customer’s needs precisely
  2. Being invested in the resolution, knowing if and when they can put the customer in someone’s else hands with confidence
  3. Leveraging personal relationships to get the best people involved
  4. Challenging poor or incorrect advice
  5. Respecting coworkers even when there’s disagreement; being courteous and patient
  6. Staying in close contact with the customer during wait times
  7. Anticipating next steps and having documentation ready
  8. Engaging in casual conversation with the customer during wait times to quiet frustration
  9. Explaining the process and answering customer questions
  10. Double checking the fix and thanking the customer for their patronage 

At one point, Sharman was clearly facing internal questions about why, as a business tech, she was still on the phone with an issue in the hands of a consumer tech. She asked if I needed her to stay with me and I said, “Yes.” She could have opted out but seeing this fix done right mattered to her. The average call handle time in her department was 17 minutes. We were way past that. 

Show gratitude 

I wanted to communicate how grateful I was for Sharman’s advocacy to Verizon, offering to fill out a satisfaction survey and to speak to her supervisor. She was thrilled and connected me to Michael. 

I was effusive to say the least, putting what Sharman did in the context of my experiences as a call center manager. Supervisors usually hear from disgruntled customers, so to hear a rep praised was something special. Michael assured me Sharman would be recognized.

Over 6,000 people worked in that mid-west call center with Sharman. The call volume there is enormous. In that environment, it’s easy to forget how much each customer is counting on each rep for both service and advocacy.

Service work is one way we make a difference in the lives of others and our community. Each phone call and each face-to-face meeting is a chance to help someone. That’s one measure of how much we care. Be an advocate, okay?

Photo from oskay via Flickr


Customer Service as Horror Story | Give It the Boot

Ever wonder if really bad customer service is a conspiracy? Or is bad service just about poor leadership? I had to break my foot to find out.

On a very hot summer morning, I was trying to teach a strong-willed colt of mine to walk nicely when being led. Instead he’d take two steps and rear. I would dodge his feet and try again. 

Well, my luck ran out. Up he went and down he came, digging his hoof into the outside of my left foot. It really hurt. I was sure it was broken. Lesson over. I’ve got a new problem to deal with now. 

I am now in hopping mode. I hop to the house and call the doctor’s office to let them know I’m on my way with a probable broken bone. I hop to my car and drive, happy my accelerator foot was spared.

I get to the doctor’s office and can’t park near the building. No problem. I hop to the door, hop up the steps, and hop to the reception desk. The young lady there greets me, finds out who I am and says: 

“You’ll have to go to x-ray in the back of the building.” 

I say, “I’m not an Olympic hopper.” 

She ignores me and says, “Just drive around back.” 

So I hop back to my car, drive around back, and can’t park close to the building because that’s where the staff has parked. I hop up a slope to x-ray. 

The technician is fabulous—efficient, caring, and professional. The x-ray shows a break. She arranges for a wheel chair (finally) to get me back to the front of the building where I’ll be seen by the doctor. 

The technician stays with me. The doctor checks the x-ray and confirms the break. 

He says, “Do you want me to put it in a cast or would you prefer a boot?” 

Hey, he’s the doctor, right? The fact that he’s asking me what I want v. what is medically better was a serious sign. So I opt for the boot. 

The technician presents the boot to the doctor who says, “Do you know how to fit these things?” (It’s getting surreal now!) 

She’s says, “No, but John does.” 

I ask, “Who’s John?” 

She answers, “The maintenance man. His daughter is a nurse.” (You can’t make this stuff up!)

John does a fine job. I wear the boot for 8 weeks and I’m whole again. 

Would it surprise you to know I was furious about this escapade. Or maybe even incredulous?

The owner of the practice was not there that day. When I was on the mend, I made an appointment to talk with him. I recounted this story to his horror. 

He thanked me profusely, saying, “If I never get told about these situations, I’m never in a position to address them.” 

The quality of your service is a reflection of your leadership.

Poor service will ultimately erode the ability of any business to grow. Here are some points to keep front and center:

  1. Small business owners and solo practitioners must ask their customers, clients, and patients how well they are being served. 
  2. If your employees think you’re oblivious or don’t care about quality service, they won’t deliver it consistently or perhaps at all.  
  3. Every person who has a horror story is telling it, eroding your brand. 
  4. Social media can spread a bad service experience probably faster than you can fix it.
  5. Quality service needs to be the expressed passion of every business owner. 

Attracting a following is essential to becoming business fit. Poor customer service will unravel a following and set your business on its ear. So please make a point to gather satisfaction feedback and act on it. You’ll never regret it. 

Got a customer service “horror story” to share. What could have avoided it? Your insights might save the day for someone else.


Personal Customers As Good As Gold | Your Life Is Your Business

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver is as much about personal customers as it is about competing out in the cold. Just look “outside the ropes” at each venue.                                      

In February we’ll get a chance to watch Lindsey Vonn, USA alpine skier, the oldest of five who started skiing at 2. As a youngster, she already had a coach and by the time she was 10, her talent was so obvious that her father laid out a skiing future for her. 

He ultimately moved Lindsey and the rest of the family from St. Paul to Vail—the land of world-class slopes. The move paid off, launching Lindsey’s winning skiing career. 

Lindsey’s story isn’t unique. Nearly every Olympic athlete reaches this pinnacle of competition because of the selfless, unflappable support of family members, friends, sponsors, and even whole communities—their personal customers. Whether there’s a medal or not, these customers share a moment that’s as good as gold. 

The people who are invested in us become our personal customers. Why? Because we have an impact on their lives. 

Here’s how I plan to serve three of mine this week. I’ll: 

  • comment on an article for a retired colleague living in Seattle
  • call my best friend to arrange a fun day in Philly   
  • send my neighbor a birthday card 

Every business needs customers or it won’t survive. So, in the business of our own lives, we need to understand what our personal customers need and want from us. 

Who are our customers? And what do they want?  

We each need to get a handle on these questions for ourselves, but here are some answers: 

  • Immediate family members want support, caring, love, loyalty 
  • Our friends want a confidant, an empathetic ear, laughter 
  • Our neighbors want courtesy, respect for property, a helping hand 

For most of us, our crowd of customers may not be as large or as glamorous as an Olympic athlete’s, but each of us has something unique and valuable that we contribute to them. It may be the: 

  • Ability to keep a confidence
  • Advice on how to make a perfect layer cake
  • Availability to baby sit on short notice  

We need personal customers to become business fit because they become our following. To serve them well is to meet or exceed their expectations. We do that by letting them know that what they need matters…that they matter. 

Because our life is our business, we interact with our customers far more intimately that any other business would. Our ability to engage our customers in our own lives is one way to celebrate and honor their support. 

Do you have any personal customers whose lives you have impacted? What was the impact of that experience on you?