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Technology Hasn’t Changed This Variable: People are Still People

November 27, 2019

By Matthew D. Anderson, originally featured in SBAM’s FOCUS Magazine

I spend over $20,000 a year in this restaurant! If this is how you’re going to treat me, I’ll take my business elsewhere!”

As the leader of a fine dining restaurant, this isn’t the kind of thing you want to hear from halfway across the dining room. The server had made a mistake at the table, followed by a mistake in handling the mistake, and it became my responsibility to deal with it. This guest, a powerful CEO in Minneapolis, was furious that, from his perspective, a server could be so disrespectful. After significant intervention, the guest left happier than ever and called the next day to order $10,000 in gift cards as holiday gifts for his employees.

We’ve all experienced a moment in our careers where an important client felt slighted and it became our immediate responsibility to recover from the consumer experience misstep and retain the client. Reflecting back on your personal experience, when you evaluate the root cause of what required you to step up to leadership, it likely boils down to some form of miscommunication.

In my case, the issue came down to an issue of perception, which was an extension of a communication error. The guest felt that a scoff from the server at an undercooked steak was directed at him. In reality, the scoff was in reaction to seeing an error from the broil cook who had been given explicit directions on how to please the guest who notoriously sent his steaks back for being undercooked. The scoff was inappropriate, but it wasn’t intended to be an insult to the guest. Regardless, in that moment, a simple exhalation nearly cost my restaurant a valued and respected regular.

The world of customer service has experienced tremendous change since the beginning of the century. Amazon, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Etsy…these services have both directly and indirectly upended the way we (as owners) do business and engage with our consumers. As we enter the new decade, AI-powered chat bots, personalization, co-browsing and omnichannel support are the buzzwords de jour. These emerging trends are designed to make the customer service experience faster, smoother, more accurate and easier. There is one thing that hasn’t changed though—the human being on the consuming end of our products and services.

In 2020, people are still people. People have feelings, and they react to things. It can become incredibly easy to forget that “Order #1234567” actually represents a breathing human who spent their money on the widgets our companies produce. As business leaders, it is our responsibility to recognize that our customers are subject to the same feelings we experience.

It’s also critical that we recognize the emotions of our internal customers. Those on the front lines, the faces of our companies, are equally subject to the intense highs and lows of interactions with other people. The way that our employees feel in any moment, based on a personal or professional interaction with another person, directly impacts the way they engage with our clients. The server in my restaurant was annoyed that he attempted to preempt the customer satisfaction issue, and it occurred all the same. The behavior that was expressed as a result of the annoyance he felt was the catalyst for the actual problem. The guest didn’t explode because his steak was undercooked; he exploded because he felt that the server was disregarding his dissatisfaction.

Dale Carnegie, in his global blockbuster book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, talks about the importance of trying honestly to see things from another person’s point of view. For the guest with an undercooked steak, having the ability to post a complaint on Facebook, or a scathing review on Yelp, doesn’t serve that person or the restaurant effectively. Even though the term is “omnidirectional support,” the reality is that these new tools of communication are frequently used as one-way vehicles to vent frustration. Most of our businesses are adopting these new tools because we see the emerging trends in the industries we serve. But the reality is, without a direct and personal intervention where we have the opportunity to seek to understand what the customer has experienced, we often will not arrive at a meaningful resolution.

In order to serve our customers most effectively, we need to try honestly to see things from their point of view. This gives us the opportunity to think outside of ourselves, to learn about their experiences and to understand what makes them tick. When we invest this time and energy into our customers, it helps to ensure that their experience is more meaningful, and that our success rate in satisfying them increases. The question becomes, “who’s responsibility is this?”

As owners and leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that the individual contributors we have customer facing are all intentionally thinking about others and how others feel. This may seem like a daunting task, and you may be thinking, “How do I do that?”

As a leader, it is also your responsibility to be a role model for your employees. By choosing to become genuinely interested in each employee, they will begin to realize over time how that experience makes them feel. Through your example and actions, they will begin to treat other people they way you want to see that they are treated.

In 2020, customer service is the same as it’s always been: people are still people. Make them feel important and do it sincerely. When you do this, your clients’ satisfaction will increase, your employees will feel good about the work they do, and your company will become more profitable.

Here’s to a successful New Year of serving others!

Matthew D. Anderson is the Chief Brand Officer of Engaged Education, an education consulting firm that works with K12, higher ed, businesses and nonprofits to develop customized programmatic solutions that deliver social-emotional learning outcomes. He is a member of the SBAM Leadership Council, and focuses on talent development solutions that serve businesses and associations throughout the state, including SBAM’s Talent Development Training Tools powered by Dale Carnegie.

He has been ranked as the #1 Corporate Dale Carnegie trainer in the world.

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