The truth about customer service.

You want to know what customer service is?

It’s solving a problem.

Not talking about it. Not “looking into it”. Not telling me why it’s a problem.

Solving it.

Yet again I have gotten off the phone (the PHONE — do you know what it takes to get me on the phone, even for my mother?) and I am pissed.

Because my problem hasn’t been solved and yet, on the part of that company, I’m sure they’ve marked that ticket as “resolved”.

But I still have my problem and I’m frustrated so it’s sure as hell not resolved.

And it’s not that customer service agent’s fault — not explicitly. She’s just doing her job. She just wasn’t trained or told what her real job was to be — chief problem solver.

The job isn’t done until the problem is solved, one way or another — or at the very least I felt like you did every reasonable thing to help me solve my problem.

This isn’t just some rant from yet another irate airline or cable or retail customer. I get this fired up on the topic because I know how excruciatingly hard it is to do this right day in and day out. And for us, we’re talking about people’s kids and their homes and the all-too-elusive concept of trust and community.

You want problems? I can tell you about problems. In one day we’ll deal with a range of issues from illness to irritations to miscommunications.

And our job is to somehow fix them. In most cases it means properly identifying what the actual problem is.

When a frantic parent comes to us desperately needing a caregiver, they’re not looking for just a warm body. They need reassurance and support and maybe a little bit of levity. Solving this problem means making the parent feel like you’re in it with them and that you’re working for them to do everything possible to help them.

Sometimes that means that even if we don’t have someone we’re able to brainstorm with them some other options and they walk away at least feeling like they didn’t have to solve it alone.

I know what we put into providing service that tries to do this day in and day out so every time I encounter inadequate customer service I wonder, why bother.

So if there were 3 things I would keep in mind when trying to provide the kind of customer service that matters, I’d say it would be:

  1. Solve the problem. One way or the other. Solve what the customer is looking for or if you can’t, try everything possible.
  2. Listen for the frustration first — don’t lead with the solution. Too often “policies” are an easy out to deal with issue. But stop from categorizing and following a protocol. Understand the deeper issue and work from that, using past experience as guidelines.
  3. Be honest about the options. You’re not always going to be able to help or solve the problem. But every situation usually has a range of options. Work with the customer to make them feel in charge of the solution and something they can choose.
  4. Genuinely empathize. So much of this role has to come from a place of understanding the pain and frustration yourself so that you can keep the empathy strong when emotions run high. Without empathy the conversations will quickly devolve into policy.
  5. Follow up. I’ve found that often it’s the followups that make the difference. The fact that we would proactively reach out often surprises and delights people. It’s really hard to do — especially when you have current customers to deal with and it’s not strictly necessary, but it’s really memorable and impactful.

This topic is so near and dear to my heart because service businesses are probably some of the hardest things out there — especially two sided service marketplaces where you have two very different sets of customers to keep happy and endless problems to help solve.

But they’re also the ones that make the lasting impact on users if done right.

So if you’re wondering if you or your team is meeting the mark, just ask yourself:

Did you solve the problem?

And trust me, you’ll know.

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