Amy Shouse learns a lot about customer service – on a canoe trip.
After 20 years of working in Customer Service, I thought I’d considered just about every angle of this worthy profession.
But last year, during a six-day canoe trip on the Green River in Utah with my husband, I learned some profound lessons from the water, the boat and the flow of the river that could be perfectly applied to the enduring Art of Customer Service.
Now I will share those lessons with you.
Be Still and Listen
We all know that nothing of value can occur between you and your customer until you understand exactly what their needs and concerns are.
The only way to achieve true understanding is to create a space that encourages your customer’s open, free-flowing expression. Deciding (and committing to) quieting your own inner monologue and desire to jump in and offer solutions before you know exactly what your customer wants will help keep the conversation going in the right direction.
On the river, if there is a change in the water’s flow, the wisest thing to do is to take a moment, be still and sense your surroundings before taking any action. The same is true when your mission is to connect with your customer. Take a minute before each call. Settle yourself. Breathe. Feel your feet on the surface below you or your back against the chair. Then open your ears and mind and listen.
Don’t Resist the Current
In the water, deliberate movements create the most enduring momentum. Ever feel like you’re paddling upstream when you’re talking to certain customers? Maybe you’re wasting a lot of energy and having trouble getting through to what the real problem is or they keep repeating the same thing over and over. They just don’t make sense!,
Chances are, when this is happening, you’re struggling against or trying to change your customer. To get things back on course you need to accept exactly where they are and what is going on with them now. Make it a point to catch yourself when you feel this happening (we all know what this feels like!) and then focus on letting things unfold naturally. Once you do this, your view will get less murky and you’ll begin to see and hear your customer more clearly.
Trust Your Customer’s Perspective
Have you ever made an assumption based on what a customer told you? How many times have you, looking back on that assumption, realized you were way off base? What about when your customer expresses their concern and, inside, you think, how can they feel like that? When you do this your customer can sense it and you lose a valuable opportunity to validate your customer’s point of view and earn their trust.
Most people want, more than anything, to be heard and validated. They want to know that what they feel and say matters. When you are able to hear what your customer’s experience is and know 100% that this is true for them and then make this your starting point you will have the foundation for invaluable, honest communication. Your customer must know that you hear and value their perspective in order for the two of you to form an alliance. Nothing reminded me of the importance of this more than being in the front of a two-person canoe where each person’s view is, literally, very different. In order to steer the canoe (and not tip over!) the two member team needs to communicate without looking at each other and each team member needs to take, at face value, what the other person sees and shares. The same is true with you and your customer.
Go With the Flow
This sounds cliche but it is absolutely true. Letting go of anything that might stand in the way of understanding and validating your customer is what will get you to where you need to go. Resist the urge to explain or analyze. Don’t hold on to your agenda by making subtle judgements or having preconceived notions about what you think your customer should be thinking or feeling. Just relax, be yourself and remember that everything you need in order to make a connection and create a happy customer is right in front of you — in the form your customer’s story.
They may have a choppy way of talking. They may be confused or mad. Their voice might remind you of your least favorite teacher from grade school. None of this matters. All that matters is that you join with their movement and allow them to tell you what’s up and once you are able to accomplish this, it will be all downstream from there.
About the Author
Amy Shouse is a veteran of the Customer Service industry with over 20 years experience as a Manager, Motivator, Team Leader and Vice-President. She lives and writes in Santa Monica, California.