conversation is an engine

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Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service

If a Customer Shouts in the Forest and No Customer Service Rep is Around to Hear it…

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Should she post a comment on Yelp?

Nancy Beiersdorf of Medtronic’s e-Commerce and global strategy hinted (in this SAP talk) at the medical device company’s evolution from a product company to a solutions and service company. One important ingredient in this new recipe will be hearing from the people with problems (people in need of a solution) and helping them solve those problems (that is, service).

But hearing from customers is not easy—even for other customers.

If you’ve ever used Yelp to locate a restaurant while traveling through a new city, you know to toss 30-50% of the comments as someone having (a) evil intent or (b) a bad day. Even our favorite national parks suffer from poor Yelp reviews:


Sorting fact from fiction has been a traditional problem with hearing from the customer. Customer service must wade through long, rabbit-trail narratives to finally get to the actionable item. That is the way of human conversation—sometimes it takes a while to get to the point. All this unquantifiable blather plays havoc with our quality systems. Surely customer service will soon chart a metric like “Time to actionable issue” and pay employees accordingly.

Hearing from customers is an inherently messy business. Especially for Medtronic: where reps once talked only with cardiologists and electrophysiologists now there will be all sorts of real people on the phone (or more likely, placing orders and comments on a web site).

All this conversation cannot help but change things upstream and downstream. In particular I expect at least two results:

  1. Increasing masses of consumer-to-company interactions will train consumers over time to use certain words and press certain buttons to get what they want. Much in the same way we are conditioned by repetition to bypass our bank’s introductions to get to a real human.
  2. Corporations may grow more sensitivity toward customer voices–the very thing Ms. Beiersdorf  advocates. By that I mean conversations have a way of working backward into the machine-gears of a corporation. As solutions and service show up more clearly on the P&L sheets, people will start to pay more attention to human interaction.

At least that is what I hope.

Let there be more advocates for the customer voice.


Image credit via Adfreak

People hate me. Immediately. (Dummy’s Guide to Conversation #21)

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Can I have a conversation even if I’m in customer service?

Q: Help: I’m in customer service and my conversation partners are harried, angry and nasty. The moment I speak, they hate me and the company I speak for. Conversation is no engine for me most days.


Am I my company’s keeper?

A: I’m sure you’ve found that a quiet, buoyant response to explosive negativity is a good first step. It is nearly always good to avoid matching anger and volume with anger and volume. If you can help your conversation partner feel heard you’ve accomplished a huge thing—especially when your company really wants to hear (your firm does want to make things right, yes?). Repeating what the person said is common in customer service circles these days and is a useful tactic in the rest of life as well. Repeating what someone says without any rhetorical or sarcastic flourishes is a useful moment in saying and hearing.

What other tactics do you practice? I’d be curious to hear them.

But don’t despair: conversation can still be an engine for you, despite each day’s avalanche of problems. Here’s how: consider each conversational event a moment to serve rather than looking for “Thank you.” Because that’s exactly what this is about: how can I (company representative) help you (respected customer) get some satisfaction? There can be immense joy in helping someone. You can create your own meaning by adopting that purpose. And it really works best with no strings attached: you can derive meaning whether or not your hear “Thanks!” or “You changed my life, Mr. Customer Service Guy!”

Some of my favorite people routinely live in this subversively helpful way and their attitude is infectious, possibly even life-giving.

See also #6: Listen to other people’s stuff


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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