There are very few positions in business that are as counter intuitively aligned as customer service.  We may be employed by the company, but our primary focus must be on taking care of the customer.  We are akin to serving as ombudsmen and our duty is to protect the interests of our customers so that they happily remain our companies’ customers.  When we fail to do this, the customer relationship can become irretrievably broken.

Image by NYPhotographic

Image by NYPhotographic

Sarah called in to a company with whom she had previously had a recurring billing cycle.  She called because she oddly received a billing statement for a time period well beyond when she had asked to cease recurring services.  Thinking it would be easily remedied, she filled the customer service representative in on the facts and asked for assistance in correcting the account and the erroneous billing. “Instead of acknowledging that there was some sort of internal error in their system, she kept repeating to me that my account cancellation had not been processed – only that my credit card had been removed from automatic payment.  It was like talking to a wall and she made it very clear she didn’t want to help me.  I quickly asked for a supervisor.”

By not hearing the customer’s true need, this representative instantly alienated the customer and forced an escalation of what should have been a simple case.  However, the supervisor did not calm things down either.

After relaying her story to this new contact, Sarah found herself in a an even more frustrating position.  “This woman started telling me exactly what the first one did.  I asked her to consider why I would stop paying rather than pausing services entirely to help her see things from my point of view – but she was having none of it.  I got frustrated and asked her ‘What can you actually do to remedy this?’ and she basically said ‘Nothing.'”  Down but not defeated, Sarah tried a new approach.  “I asked her, ‘If you were me, what would you do to solve this problem?’ and she quite flippantly told me, ‘I would have made doubly certain that my cancellation had been processed correctly.'”

We can all quite plainly see why this is entirely the wrong approach for someone with “service” anywhere in their title, but let’s take a closer look at why this dogged insistence on defending the company rather than the customer is a recipe for business disaster.  “I could not believe what this lady was telling me.  It was so rude and uncaring!  In addition to my anger that something simple was proving to be so difficult to remedy, her response also quite hurt my feelings.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but it made me cry!  This was a company I’d used for a very long time and given a lot of my money to.  They were always happy to take it when I didn’t need their assistance, but how dare I need their help now.  I feel like they stole from me and tried to blame me for not being OK with that.  The kicker was being told that they would send me to collections if I didn’t pay their bogus bill.  I will never do business with them again and I am on a holy mission to ensure no one else I know does, either.”

By not aligning themselves with their customer’s side, these representatives chose a short term gain over the benefits of having a long term customer.  Decisively losing her future business and the business of her circle of influence was shortsighted, as both are exponentially bigger than the temporary sacrifice of helping her out.  We must always weigh the importance of loyalty , not of our customers to us, but of us to our customers when we step into the critical role of providing customer service.  Our companies’ continued success and reputations depend on it.