Serving as a Real Kitty: How to Give Authentic Customer Service

As we celebrate Customer Service Week, Chip Bell reflects on how we can bring more authenticity to the workplace all year round.

Customer service week hero

We have a cat. She lives largely indoors. But, every once in a while, a forgetful granddaughter leaves the door open and the kitty cat escapes. She generally returns with something in her mouth, eager to get back into the house to show off her skills. We tell our granddaughters she got a chance to be a “real kitty.”

Customers long to be served by “a real kitty.” Scripts, protocols, rules, and regulations often keep front-line service people in a less-than-authentic stance. I have frequently listened to the banter and boisterous communications among contact center agents in the breakroom that then got muffled and stymied when the agent returned to dialogue with customers. Yet, authenticity is the feature that bolsters trust among customers. Even the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, renowned for world-class service, dropped their stock “my pleasure” and “certainly” as a way to de-cookie-cutter their brand in favor of a more genuine greeting that still retained a sense of class and respect for their guests.

Authenticity Starts with Fearlessness

There was a popular book in the 1980’s by John Powell entitled Why I Am Afraid to Tell You Who I Am. The punchline of the book was this: I am afraid to tell you who I am because you may not like who I am and I am all I have. Authenticity is mask removal in action. It is having the courage to be genuine despite internal reservations to self-protect. It is borne of self-talk that speaks encouragement plus and external atmosphere that communicates safety. Leaders can do little with an agent’s internal dialogue but they are in charge of the supportiveness of an external setting.

Authenticity is Nurtured by Affirmation

Affirmation bolsters self-esteem. Think of it as equipping contact center agents with a bulletproof vest. No matter the abuse, tirade, or criticism they receive at the hand of upset customers, the agent does not take it personally. Philosopher William James wrote, “The deepest craving of human behavior is the need to be valued.” And, Ralph Waldo Emerson offered council for that valuing process when he wrote, “Treat a man (person) as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man (person) as he could be, and he will become what he should be.” Help your frontline agents find his or her “real kitty.”

Authenticity is Honed Through Friendly Practice

I was an infantry unit commander with the 82nd Airborne and served in heavy combat. It meant I was in many situations where fear for my life could have won out over responsible duty to mission and troops. When friends asked how I maintained grace under pressure in combat, I pointed to the supportive practice I received as I trained to be a warrior. Simulations, field practice, and drills gave me the “I can do this in my sleep” competence required for reality. Great leaders are effective mentors, perpetually bolstering the confidence of agents through non-stop training, rehearsal and coaching.

Authenticity is Invigorated by Leaders Who Are Genuine

Leaders too often associate their mantle of authority with a requirement for detachment. “I don’t care if my employees like me,” the swashbuckling ruler announces, “I just want them to respect me.” Such a view is often a preamble to emotional distance and calculated encounters. The headlong pursuit of aloofness as the expression of authority invites employee evasiveness, not employee enthusiasm. It triggers reserve, not respect. An open-door policy is not about a piece of furniture; it is about an attitude of vulnerability.

Organizations with cultures characterized as authentic have more than their share of employee engagement and cutting-edge breakthroughs. Turnover is lower because employees value an environment free of passive aggressive game playing, cynicism and suspicion. Customers are loyal longer because they trust what they experience. Suppliers give such organizations better breaks because they view encounters as long-term investments, not short-term transactions.

“Authenticity,” wrote author and TED Talk speaker, Dr. Brene Brown, “is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let out true selves be seen.”

What can you do to help surface and support the “real kitty” in all your associates – not just this Customer Service Week, but all year round?

About the Author

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books His newest book is the award-winning Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles. He can be reached at

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