Customer Service has always been my favorite thing. I love it. Years ago I had to teach my team how to perform customer service effectively and many of them were college students. Not an easy concept to get across to someone who hasn’t been in the work world. When my team worked with a customer, I saw one of three outcomes:
The customer went away happy
The customer went away with a solution but unhappy
The customer went away without a solution and unhappy
When the customer went away happy, we all knew why. If the customer went away without a solution and were unhappy, we all knew why and could usually address these with training. It was that one in the middle that were tricky. I needed to develop a way to discuss it that would make sense. Enter the fence.
When a customer talks about a problem, they usually use possessive words – MY problem. The problem is attached to their ego and therefore a part of them. Not one they want, but still. If I had my staff pretend there was a fence between them and their customer, we could illustrate the issue clearly. When the customer arrived with the problem, the customer and the problem were on the same side of the fence and we were on the other. If we could separate the customer from their problem and bring them over to our side of the fence, we could solve the problem and they would be happy. Let’s look at examples.
If a customer had a problem with a piece of computer hardware that they had installed, they may assume we were going to “accuse” them of doing it wrong. (all about the ego at that point) If we started the call by asking the customer the steps they took to install it, they get to tell us without any accusation or telling them they didn’t do something right. As they describe the installation, the staff member would ask questions and sympathize if something went wrong or the customer didn’t know something. As they talked, the staff member would empathize with the problem – possibly share a situation where they had a similar problem – to help the customer separate their ego from the problem. Once the customer was working with the staff member, they could solve the problem and move on.
If the staff member didn’t go down that path and just jumped in with a solution, even if it was the right one, the customer didn’t feel like they were a part of the solution. They were left with the ego attachment to nothing because the problem was solved. These are the ones that at the end the person goes to someone else and complains. They go through a whole big story and the person they are talking to says, “but is it working?” and they begrudgingly have to say yes. Not an ideal outcome in a customer service situation. In this case the staff member didn’t bring the customer to their side of the fence and therefore didn’t give the customer the closure they needed.
So the next time you are trying to help someone through a problem, think of a fence between you. Help the person separate their ego from the problem and then when you solve it, you will solve it together!