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What happens when #JustBeNice isn’t enough? Let’s look at this through the lens of customer service. About a year ago, you bought a new grill at a national chain. The sales reps were friendly and convinced you to buy the store brand, the model you wanted was in stock, and it was delivered to your home right on time. The grill works great for its first summer in use.

When you take the grill out of storage for its second season, problems start popping up. The igniter stops working, so you have to light it manually. Then, before the first big barbecue of the summer, the gas stops flowing altogether. You’re frustrated, but you figure a call to customer service should rectify the problem.

Customer “Service” In Action

The call seems to go well. It doesn’t take long to reach an actual person, and everyone you deal with is extremely pleasant. All you want is a working grill, as soon as possible. They let you know that they are concerned about the problem, and that the matter will be resolved quickly.

Only, it doesn’t get resolved quickly. Instead of replacing the grill, they offer to pay for repairs ($900 in parts for a $400 grill), but you’ll wait a month for parts to arrive. Not ideal, but better than nothing, even if it doesn’t make sense. Then a month passes, and the parts haven’t arrived. They offer you $500 in store credit, which is $100 more than you paid for the grill originally.

Frustrated, you purchase a replacement grill (and not the store brand this time), and make a mental note to shop elsewhere next time you make a big purchase. The customer service reps never stopped being nice, but you lost a month of grilling season waiting for them to make the decision they should have made in the first place.

What Went Wrong?

The solution that would have made you happy, saved the company money, and likely kept you on as a future customer was simple – replace your defective grill with a new, working grill of the same model. So, why didn’t it happen? The problem is in the process. Somewhere in the company’s customer service mandate, red tape overtook common sense.

We see this kind of thing play out every day because so much of this is now public on social channels. Many even think they might get better/faster response if they attempt to reach out for help on a brand’s social platforms. Sometimes they do—but more often they don’t. And that’s because when a brand’s customer service mentality is broken at its core, no amount of responsiveness and being nice on social channels, or any other customer service venue, will change that. This is a huge failing that is only compounded by the social conversations swirling around the brand.

At its heart, customer service is about reaching fast, fair resolutions to customer problems. That can’t be accomplished with kind words alone. In the case of the defective grill, maybe offering repair before replacement was a matter of policy, even in cases where it doesn’t make financial sense. The service reps hands are tied if they have no discretion to modify that policy where applicable.

Wherever the problem originated, its consequences are clear. The customer loses, because they don’t get a timely, appropriate resolution. The service rep loses, because they aren’t equipped with the tools and discretion to handle issues appropriately. In the end, the company loses a customer’s trust, and therefore his business. Plus, since every customer has social access to an ever-widening circle of friends, that loss of trust is made public, and brand reputation suffers.

The Lesson

Being nice and following up is important, but it’s got to be backed by appropriate action. Quality customer service requires a strong plan and a system built to resolve issues efficiently. It’s about looking at challenges constructively and teaching customer service reps (as well as others in the organization) to do the same, creating a true customer service mindset across the organization. Success requires empowering employees to make correct decisions and cutting out the red tape that leads to damaged relationships.

Like social, customer service is ultimately about building relationships. Customers want to be treated with respect, know that their issues are being taken seriously, and see results within a reasonable time-frame. Do those things, and you set the stage for a long-term relationship with the customer. Being nice is a great first step, but it doesn’t cover up for a lack of results. In customer service, combining efficient results with common courtesy is the surest path to Return on Relationship, #RonR.

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