In our technological world, our work must often be predictable, repeatable, sustainable, and logical. These elements are the foundations of our working environments; building them is what we do as technology professionals. We are the magicians behind vast systems and complex processes, automation specialists who can translate most any sequence into a digital result, doing more with less by way of innovations and technology. When we can control the environment, we can measure and manage the results with crazy accuracy. So what happens when you introduce the customer into your carefully crafted microcosm of bits and bytes?
What are we talking about when we talk about the customer experience? Are we really just talking about customer service? If you’re service-centric, you probably look to service-centric metrics to define the customer experience, metrics like first call resolution, customer satisfaction, and timeliness of service. These aren’t bad, but they aren’t really about your customers’ experience across their interactions with you or your teams. These are all single points of entry along a continuum, and it is the sum of the points along the continuum that defines the customer experience. This is what your customers consider when they evaluate you, your products, and your services.
As service professionals, we’re responsible for crafting this journey—the customer experience—with intention and purpose. We have an obligation to represent our organizations, its products, its people, and its brands in a proactive and positive manner, and in the best light possible. This is much easier described than executed, especially when our customer interactions are so often couched in negativity (that first call, email, chat message, or tweet that starts with “It doesn’t work!”). It may not always seem like it, but this is your opportunity to shine!
There are so many variables that can have an impact on the customer experience: the customer’s or service provider’s perspective at various touchpoints, the customer’s emotions or health, and even the weather, just to name a few. But let’s look at a few of the intricacies of the customer, from the customer perspective.
Customers are people, first and foremost. As such, they’re all the things your systems are not: unpredictable, seemingly random, often tiring, and perceptibly illogical. Yet, everything we do with technology has a human component. We must never forget that at the end of every transaction, there’s a person who’s the reason why we do what we do.
For internal service desks, our customers are typically our colleagues, people we see every day in the course of doing business (if not physically, at least their digital trails). External customers are more anonymous, and that anonymity affords us an added layer of insulation and depersonalization. Who are they really? As it turns out, they’re more like us than you know. Meet your customers!
The Six Customers You Meet on the Service Desk
1. “I’m your customer, and I’m having a bad day!”
As technology service providers, by definition, we provide services to people who, without our guidance, help, and expertise, could not meet some aspect of their immediate needs. These people—our customers—pick up the phone, type out an email, or even pulse the social media sphere in an attempt to seek assistance for something they can’t achieve on their own.
For customers, there can be an sense of frustration and powerlessness that comes from having a problem that can’t be overcome without the assistance of another person. The service desk is often their last, reluctant resort.
This is a drama that plays out every day, in support organizations around the world. When our customers are having a bad day, we can’t know what else is happening in their lives, but on this day the service desk is a beacon of hope.
In the first few seconds, you set the tone for the interaction. So, remember, your customer is not an intrusion, interruption, or inconvenience; your customer is depending on you, and she deserves your undivided attention and access, through you, to the wealth of data and knowledge you have at your fingertips.
You have the power to change the course of your customer’s day, to deliver an experience of enormous magnitude. Make it count!
2. “I’m your customer, and I’m not daft...honest!”
We all have our moments, but, contrary to popular opinion, the customer is not always wrong! Customers know their business and operational systems in ways unique to their areas of responsibility.
Our view of our customers’ systems is very from their view as users, but that difference doesn’t make their usage wrong. Banish that thought and seek to understand those differences before you tackle their problems.
Empathy and understanding always win over confrontation. Tapping into your similarities is the key to making a profound difference in your customer’s day.
3. “I’m your customer, and it really did work before. I didn’t change anything!”
This is important. So often, we ask the typical triage questions, but we immediately question our customers’ answers. To our logical, systems-based minds, something must have changed—or, more likely, have been changed—for something that was working to suddenly stop working. And, anecdotally, technical support typically believes that problems are almost always a user issues.
Responding with “It works for me” or “I can’t replicate the problem” doesn’t help the experience, it degrades it. Try something radical: Approach the problem from your customer’s perspective, saying instead, “Let’s walk through the problem and see if we can’t work out what happened here together.”
4. “I’m your customer, and I know I said ‘just fix it,’ but that really isn’t good enough.”
Any customer who’s asking you to “just fix it” is really asking you to make the problem go away, permanently. This involves identifying the root cause and eradicating the conditions that could create the same issue again.
“Just fixing” a problem without addressing the root cause amounts to putting Band-Aid on it. Eventually, the Band-Aid will wall off and the problem will need additional attention at a later point in time. Focus on quality, focus on improvement, and focus on your customer’s real needs, not just what they’re saying to you. “Just doing it” isn’t enough.
5. “I’m your customer, and this isn’t my fault, it’s yours!”
Remember, your customer is having a bad day. If he wasn’t, you wouldn’t be having the pleasure of this interaction. Your customers may behave outrageously, act out, and pitch fits when things aren’t working for them. Don’t get sucked into the blame game. Never argue, because even if you win the argument, you still lose. Your customer will take his business elsewhere, and the personal and organizational credibility you’ll lose may take years to regain. Blaming and dodging responsibility are not resolutions that improve the customer experience.
Also, bear in mind that there will always be a percentage of your customers that simply don’t get it. They don’t read the instructions, they don’t heed the warnings of incompatibility, they don’t follow procedures, and they’ll blame you for the inevitable outcomes. Just accept it, because you can’t avoid customers like this.
6. “I’m your customer, and you said you fixed it, but I’m telling you it doesn’t work.”
That shortcut probably seemed like a good idea at the time, right? Your customer probably thought so too, until she experienced the same problem again. (You can almost see the pointed finger!) Shortcuts rarely save time. More often, shortcuts result in greater losses to productivity as we get caught up in realigning the processes that were knocked out of whack when we took the shortcut.
What your customers really need is the proper outcome. They need fast, accurate results where quality isn’t sacrificed for speed. It’s up to you to deliver a sound, quality solution and document it properly.
However, the fact remains that technical troubles can’t always be solved quickly. Many problems compound and complicate themselves over time and through prolonged use, and unraveling a technical issue to resolve the root cause can be an exhaustive and time-consuming exercise requiring multiple layers of team expertise and ability. It might take hours or even days. Sometimes, our customers don’t understand that. But if you keep your customers informed with regular updates on what you’re doing to solve their problems, they’ll love you for it.
Universal Truths and the Customer Experience
These six truths are, with subtle variations, universal across all industries. So, what does this tell us about our customers?
In many organizations, service desks get little respect, and customer complaints are all too often dismissed. The reality is, customer complaints can propel us to improve our services, which makes things better not only for our customers but also for our organizations.
It also means that service desks deserve far more credit than they get! Working on the service desk requires a special touch. Customers can be challenging; they can be misinformed, disrespectful, or just plain wrong. But they can also be the best people you’ll ever meet, and they might even change your life. Keep your mind open to experiencing the passions of others, even as they confront you in ways previously unimagined.
Remember, our role as service providers is not just technical, it’s personal. Connect with your customers as people. Walk with them on their more frustrating journeys and you’ll experience their joy when they succeed. Celebrate the victories, no matter how small.
I can’t stress this enough: we are fortunate to be in this position. (Honest, we are!) We have the opportunity to change people’s lives and experiences every day, to be the reason for a smile, a connection, or an “a-ha!” moment of truth. We should strive for nothing less than excellence in these endeavors, and we shouldn’t squander opportunities to achieve excellence.
All of our technical innovations—automation, digitization, consumerization, etc.—are just links in the chain that supports the customer experience. However, while these gizmos, gadgets, and processes may be marvels of our time, people still need other people to help solve their problems. No amount of technology can generate a spontaneous smile and heartfelt thanks like the help of another person can. What we must never forget, and what we must actively embody in our actions every day, is that the single most important reason we do what we do is the customer.
Anne Vail is the people person in IT. With many years of direct experience building and improving service organizations across the United States, Anne has championed IT service management from education to private industry, throughout the United States, Australia, and beyond. She has been actively involved in HDI and other professional organizations, and she has presented and published in a variety of regional, national, and international forums. Anne received her MA in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University. Connect with her on