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Here’s a simple principle of exceptional customer service that is essential to learn and take to heart: Every customer is at the center of their own world.
The person a customer cares most about (at least when conducting business with you) is themself. They don’t care about, or at least don’t give any thought to, the challenges that an employee serving them may be navigating. They don’t care that other customers also need to be served or about the behind-the-scenes realities at your business, least of all your company’s organizational chart.
In your customers’ day-to-day lives, when they’re not buying from or being served by you, they may be the most open-hearted, considerate, and even philanthropic people in the world. Yet, as customers, they’re almost universally focused on themselves (as well as their kids, pets, partner or their boss).
And that’s OK — it’s the way it should be.
A charitable way to put this? It’s not that your customers don’t care. Rather, they simply don’t realize that any extraneous (to them) elements and challenges are involved in serving them. From the viewpoint of your customers while doing business with you, they are at the center of the world.
My suggestion is that, rather than resenting this reality, lean into it by making the customer feel that they’re at the center of your world as well. Revamp your attitude by recognizing that embracing your customers’ self-focused reality isn’t a negative; it isn’t demeaning. Instead, it’s a way to get the cash registers to ring.
Serve one customer at a time
If you want each customer to feel like they’re at the center of your world, learn to focus your attention on just one customer at a time.
Here’s the mantra that should be seared into the soul of every employee in an organization: The only customer who matters is the one in front of me right now. Strive to bring a laser-like focus to the customer in front of you (or on the telephone or video call) and let the rest fade into the background.
I can’t pretend that focusing on one customer at a time will be easy. In any business, there will always be competing priorities and multiple customers clamoring for attention. Nevertheless, making a focused connection with one person, even briefly, is supremely powerful. On the front lines, this power is self-evident. In the back office, it’s also powerful, leading to less abrupt communications and correspondence. In leadership or strategic positions, it keeps you from so completely aggregating how you look at customer feedback and data that you miss the nuances of what individuals are asking of you.
Does putting the customer in the center mean moving the employee out of the center?
The short answer is “no!” — though this is certainly one of the ways I worry that my teachings will be misapprehended and misapplied.
The longer answer: learning to look through a customer-focused lens when you are providing customer service is entirely compatible with having a company that is focused — in a broader sense — on the needs and aspirations of its employees.
Customer focus shouldn’t be used as a rationale for unpaid overtime, unfeeling scheduling practices, or HR trickery couched as pro-customer decision-making.
Happily, most (though sadly, not all) pro-customer organizations are also pro-employee. Why? There are multiple reasons: the overall health of most pro-customer organizations, the empowerment employees tend to have there, and the happy phenomenon that when such companies deploy pro-customer efforts, it’s nearly inevitable that such efforts will positively affect how a company treats employee needs and aspirations as well.
Eight simple ways to put the customer at the center of your world
Here are eight simple ways to provide the kind of recognition that lets a customer know you’re putting them at the center, which I frequently stress when I’m delivering customer service training:
- Use your customer’s name. (Within reason! Don’t overdo this and start sounding like those irritating fill-in-the-blank salespeople.)
- Offer the customer your name.
- If a customer takes the time to ask, “How are you doing?” answer them and volley the question back to them: “I’m doing great! And how are YOU, [Jeremy]?”
- If you know where a customer lives (it’s quite possibly included right there on the invoice filling your screen) and you’re familiar with the area, comment on how it’s a nice or convenient area, that you used to live there, that your daughter lived there when she went to college, etc. (I wouldn’t do this, however, with a high- net-worth individual [HNWI] or celebrity—going on about how luxe their neighborhood is may make you sound a bit creepy or stalker-like.)
- If you know anything about a customer’s hobbies, interests, pets, kids, spouse, partner, family members, etc., check in on them.
- Show gratitude to the customer for being a longtime (or first-time) customer, for choosing your company, for allowing you to work on their account, and so forth.
- Use “spark words,” little phrases that ring in a customer’s ear with reassurance that this matters to you: both their issue and the pleasure of conversing with them. Here are four such phrases:
- “Nice [or “Great”] to hear from you [again]!”
- “I’m your person to resolve this for you from here on out.”
- “If you ever need anything, here’s my direct extension.”
- “Now that you have me working on your issue, I will get you the absolute best resolution.”
- To make sure customers who are on your premises never feel unrecognized, use the 10–5–3 sequence:
- When a customer is 10 feet away (this assumes that they’re walking toward you or you toward them), acknowledge their presence with a nod and direct eye contact.
- At five feet, smile.
- At three feet, say “hello,” “good morning,” or “good afternoon,” assuming the customer is not otherwise engaged (e.g., on their cell phone or talking to a companion with whom they’re shopping). If they are thus involved, leave them alone!