How you serve your customers under stress speaks to the very quality of your organization
September 19, 20235 min read
Imagine stepping into the world of customer service with Micah Solomon, the CX transformation guru. He's about to unveil a game-changing perspective on customer service that will leave you intrigued and inspired. Get ready to dive into his revolutionary customer service culture matrix – a trademark masterpiece that promises to reshape your entire approach to customer satisfaction. Use Solomon’s Service Culture Matrix tool to help you monitor how you’re stacking up.
There are many ways to conceptualize customer service, but I divide it into four pieces.
The first two groupings:
How we serve our (external) customers
How we serve the people who serve our customers (this includes suppliers and other business partners; it includes our colleagues; it includes our leadership; it consists of the people who report to us.)
To complicate this a bit, we need to add another pair of eventualities. How well do we serve each of these cohorts:
When things are going smoothly – as opposed to –
When our systems (and our people) are encountering stress, particularly unexpected stress?
How, in other words, do we serve these two cohorts when it's a sunny, mild day, the phones aren’t ringing off the hook, we're fully staffed (nobody’s called in sick or gotten delayed in traffic), our technical systems and the internet are pumping along at top speed, and so forth, versus how do we serve them when we experience an unseasonably high volume of telephone, digital, or foot traffic, when a recall has been announced, or when there is a snowstorm or hurricane on the horizon?
I visualize these four categories in my “customer service culture matrix,” which you can see here.
Surprisingly, there is a small number of companies that seem to do better with some level of stress egging them on to a higher level of performance; it seems that employees at Disney parks have just a bit more spring in their step, a bit more excitement, a bit more enthusiasm for providing stellar guest (as they call it) service when the parks are at, say, 90% capacity than when it’s the offseason and overcast, and the park is nearly empty. And you’ll find other companies that similarly up their performance under pressure, particularly in industries where conditions are inherently stressful: funeral homes, fire brigades, and so forth.
But for far more companies, this (understandably) is different. Instead, we struggle under pressure, and our service to customers and the people who serve our customers suffer.
Good times and times of unusual stress are two different realities. And to be a sustainable, beloved organization, you need to be able to deal with both. The great thing is that if you do a stellar job assisting customers and business partners under challenging circumstances, you have an exceptionally high chance of positively impacting them because they now know you’re far more than a fair-weather friend.
One of my all-time favorite examples of this is how Jimmy Kimmel never stops singing the praises of the Four Seasons hotel chain. Why? Well, it all goes back to this. Kimmel was vacationing at the Four Seasons resort in Bora Bora (lucky for him) when the tragic Tohoku earthquake sent a tsunami potentially heading their direction (not so fortunate). Kimmel was so delighted – not only by not dying but also (and maybe more so) by the service that he and his fellow Four Seasons guests received in this nerve-wracking — terrifying, even — situation: All emergency procedures were expertly followed, including getting guests into the resort’s swimming pools, considered the safest place on the property.
Furthermore, Jimmy Kimmel said that “the staff of the Four Seasons took a brilliant position, one that every customer service operation should consider. They acted like the tsunami was their fault. They apologized at every turn [for the inconvenience it was causing]. They made what should have been a harrowing experience into the nicest picnic I’ve ever been on.”
What makes the difference, speaking broadly, in the likelihood that you will rise to the occasion in your service levels as needed? It’s more likely to happen when excellent service is the default expectation at your company: whether it is in the actual atmosphere — the air everyone breathes — at your company.
If the service ethos is strong in good times, then when things get challenging, nobody on staff is going to be satisfied seeing their performance and results suffer; instead, employees will rise to the occasion, will stretch, will be creative in filling in gaps, will even be the source of innovation in process and systems to avoid such stressful moments, to the extent that they can be predicted, in the future.
Nobody, however, can be stretched beyond a breaking point without, well, breaking. So, you also should be investing in technology to prepare you for bottlenecks: an AI bot and/or AI-informed search engine to handle an inquiry overload (or prevent it in the first place), for example. As well as the sophisticated AI real-time training tools now available can turn a generalist agent into a “temporary specialist” on the fly when all your actual specialists are otherwise engaged. You can also get advance (or at least faster) notice of pending crises out there that may soon affect you if you’re using technology that searches social media mentions round the clock, [such as Sprinklr’s Social Listening tool] using AI to watch for patterns emerging that you need to know about.
In the physical world, an innovative use of technology to remove a bottleneck is the recent deployment of Amazon Go technology to pre-check fans’ IDs (for age verification) at Denver’s Coors Stadium and thus minimize the lines once those fans start lining up for a drink.
Serving internal customers (colleagues) can be made similarly bottleneck-proof with robust AI-powered tools, including self-service tools when it’s after hours, or the humans are otherwise tied up. Tying your vendors into your systems (to the extent that security allows) is a powerful step toward making them true (albeit not legally speaking) partners, who are sometimes surprisingly happy to shoulder some of the work in your time of need since your customers are, ultimately speaking, their customers too.