Perfecting Service Management

Issue #79

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Customer Centricity Seminar in Malaysia

Join Customer Centricity Founder and President Craig Bailey for a seminar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 17-18 October 2005. The seminar covers both strategic and tactical approaches for a company to become customer centric. At a strategic level, we will clearly outline a road-map for creating a customer centric organization. At a tactical level, we will cover practical approaches to enable customer service representatives to deliver top-notch service. Check out the online brochure to learn more.

Get 30% off the seminar fee when you mention that you heard about this via the Customer Centricity newsletter!

Customer Advocacy - Ensuring Mutual Understanding
by Craig Bailey

As we discussed in our previous edition, the proactive Customer Advocate becomes successful by getting into the heart and mind of the customer. A strong Customer Advocate must therefore possess tools and skills to maximize the value of customer interactions at all levels of customer engagement. In this issue, we will begin looking at "individual transactions," focusing specifically on their importance in achieving mutual understanding.

We refer to "individual interactions" as those seemingly routine, minor and stand-alone interactions with our customers, such as a phone call, voice mail message, email, or letter, for which we simply owe a response. The inquiry could relate to a question, problem, etc. that can be immediately responded to and/or resolved. And, our response closes out the interaction.

The brutal reality is that too often customer relationships completely unravel because of botched individual interactions. Why? Because two principles are not adhered to:

  1. Ensure mutual understanding during each customer interaction
  2. Recognize that a bigger picture exists (everything is related, nothing is stand alone)

Ensuring mutual understanding

Just to warn you, what follows may be an uncomfortable set of questions. The first question: Who is responsible for ensuring that the other person understands what you are saying? The answer: You are! And, the second question: Who is responsible for ensuring that you understand what the other person is communicating? The answer: You are!

You might say "That seems unfair. Why am I responsible for the success of the communication in both cases and the other person is not?" I'm writing this assuming that you are (or want to be) a professional. If you want to be perceived as an exceptionally talented person, realize that you are responsible for ensuring mutual understanding within all communications that you participate, whether you are the transmitter or receiver of information. Period.

How do you ensure that mutual understanding exists during each interaction you are involved in? Through effective use of some basic interpersonal communication skills.

When you need to ensure the receiver of your communication understands

When you must be absolutely sure that the other person "understands" what you are communicating, ask that person to repeat back their understanding. For example, you might say something to the effect of: "Sue, I know we just talked about a lot of things. I just want to make sure we are on the same page about what we just discussed. Could you repeat back to me your understanding [of the situation]?"

Here is an example that many of us can relate to. The scene: Your teenager is playing XBOX. You need him or her to do a few chores and finish homework. You ask "Could you clean your room, take out the garbage and finish your homework before you go out with your friends?" The response you receive is a simple "o.k." An hour later, when friends are at the door, what has been accomplished? Nothing. When you indicate that your child cannot go out with friends because chores and homework aren't complete, you hear "what are you talking about?" as your child looks at you like you have two heads.

While we'd all like to assume that adults are more advanced in their listening skills, we too often observe that because of distractions, multiple priorities or incomplete information provided by us, that we meet with the same end: ineffective communications resulting in a less than desirable outcome.

To avoid this, recognize the reality that until the receiver of information can repeat back in his/her own words what he/she has heard, to your satisfaction, you have not been heard. In the case of your teenager, it will likely mean you need to stand in front of the TV (blocking the game), restate what you asked to be done and have him or her repeat back what you said. Then, and only then, will the XBOX go off and chores begin.

When you need to ensure you understand

When you need to ensure your understanding of what someone is communicating to you, you too can use the technique outlined above, of repeating back in your own words your understanding of what the other person said. However, doing so prematurely may result in your sharing an incomplete (even) shallow understanding. As such, you are first encouraged to clarify what the person has said by seeking additional information about the "what and why." How often has someone (a customer or otherwise) told you what they wanted, which was something you could not or were not prepared to deliver on as it wasn't an option or capability available to you. However, once you asked a few probing questions about the "why" you learned that what was needed was something altogether different. And, the true need was something that you COULD deliver on. Once you have asked the appropriate set of questions to ensure your understanding of the "what and why," you can then make your attempt at repeating back what your understanding of the situation is.

An example, keeping with the teenager theme...Has your teenager ever indicated to you: "I need some money." Or, "I need $15." If you are like me, your first reaction might be to say "no" or "what did you do with last week's allowance" or "I'll pay you $15 for taking care of the following (larger than average) chore." Your child's response may be something like "never mind." However, with further probing, you learn that the reason he or she needs $15 is to get a haircut for school pictures which are scheduled for tomorrow. Recognizing that your child's hair is a bit straggly, you are MORE than happy to provide the necessary funding so that your child's hair looks well-kempt for school pictures.

In summary, when you need to ensure your understanding of what someone is communicating so that you can act or make a decision, and/or your first reaction is to reject, ignore or disagree with what is being said, first clarify by seeking additional information about the what and why.

I hope you observe that effective interpersonal communications skills are applicable in every aspect of your personal and professional life. That is, they work far beyond customer interactions.

In the next edition we will discuss how to ensure that the bigger (relationship) picture is acknowledged within each individual customer interaction.

If your organization would benefit from receiving a comprehensive seminar on the practical approaches for instituting the Customer Advocacy model, give us a call. The tools and techniques shared can be implemented immediately and create long-lasting positive results.

View previous articles in this series.

Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down

This column is devoted to memorable customer experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly. This issue brings another less than desirable experience resulting in a customer defection:

We have stopped going to a nearby bagel store/restaurant as the result of service we find unacceptable. On two separate occasions, the cashier rang up our order incorrectly, and both times, the error was discovered while reviewing the receipt after we had paid. And both times, the cashier could do NOTHING to correct the error...couldn't credit our credit card, couldn't refund us cash. To their credit, the first time, the manager gave us his card authorizing a future purchase of three dozen bagels, but the second time they offered nothing. So we've had it...

Editor's note: When a system prevents front-line employees from serving customers properly, not only does it need to be fixed, but all front-line employees need to be empowered and trained to overcome the system constraints and meet the needs of the customers.

Have your own customer service experience to share? Email us.


+ Customer Advocacy - Ensuring Mutual Understanding
+ Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down
+ Recommended Reading
+ Book Recommendation

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Recommended Reading
CRM Today magazine has published the second half of Managing the [Project] Customer Experience by our own Craig Bailey. Craig recently joined the editorial board of CRM Today and will be making regular submissions to the magazine, so stay tuned for future articles of interest.

Book Recommendation
Craig Bailey
Is your company passionate (about the customer) and realizing the benefits (profitability) of being so? If not, a must read is Passionate and Profitable by Lior Arussy. After having dinner with Mr. Arussy recently, I found him to be just as passionate and "edgy" about the customer as his book would suggest! Some of the key topics covered include:

  • Who are we: Customer pleasers or efficiency crunchers?

  • What is the role of the customer in our existence?

  • What customers do we neglect?

  • What kind of relationships do we seek?

  • How do we avoid the silo-based customer trap?

  • Do we employ functional robots or passionate evangelists?

  • Post-sales dialogue and feedback, do we really care?

  • What do our measurements say about us?

  • How long do we milk our products?

It gets even better! The book is ranked as a "five-star" read and is presently on sale at a reduced price at!

Topics, Topics, Topics
Do you have a topic you would like to see covered in our newsletter? Contact us with your suggestions.

About Customer Centricity, Inc.
We strengthen overall company performance through better service delivery and management.

We boost efficiencies in front-line customer service and technical support teams, order processing, fulfillment, field service, logistics and other key operations functions.

In short, we align the resources of your organization to exceed your customers' expectations in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

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