Monday, October 5, 2015

Dale Carnegie...did you fail us, tip our hand, or stack the deck?

I started working customer service many years ago, retail has been a recent additive bonus.  Retail has its ups and downs like any other job offering, but many in the industry that serve front-end jobs get burnt out very easily.  Many of whom I've called colleague quote the sacred mantra as part of their loathing, "The customer is always right".  There are parody sites of this motto (scenarios of the customer acting egregiously problematic, ignorant, or rude) and cross-over parody sites (wherein the customer service person is a jerk to the customer).  Many servers I know write posts constantly about the nature of their version of the beast in a "tips are my life-blood, why are you my vampire" kind of way.  And I won't begin to go on rants regarding the antics I've seen. (Though being able to say, replying to a customer who asked if the yellow bag of M&M's has peanuts, "If not, it would be false advertising" was rather satisfying.) But it goes without saying that the motto has caveats...but not to Carnegie.

See, he does mention something in his seminal work How to Win Friends and Influence People (furthermore HWFIP), that you always have a choice in relationships (sales or otherwise) to be well-liked or be right.  Because consistently proving the latter (or badgering it) can prove costly to the relationship.  Imagine the person you've loved the most and just constantly one-upping them and telling them they're wrong.  Would the relationship last?  Probably not.  It doesn't say much for the relationship if the majority of it is spent putting someone down.  And in sales, it just means you're going to lose a customer.  Therefore, he posits that we should strive to be well-liked instead.  

However in the utmost logical sense, if the customer is always right, then, who is always wrong?  The employee.  Technically so is management, but they have ways to make the relationship with the customer better through comps, discounts, and alternatives; options not available to the employee.  Furthermore, management understands they have rules and regulations to follow, they have best practices; "should' scenarios that they can follow to assure the best results occur for both company and customer.  Overall,  Carnegie posits that employees should race to this option faster in the sales relationship if things get out of hand.

In the end, these shoulds SHOULD support the employee...but due to conflicts in training and implementation, they instead mark the employee as 'the problem' rather fallaciously. Carnegie castigates these employees that emphasize their correctness, despite or in account of the employee's attempt to seek amicable consensus.  **There is another blog that I will do on system's theory and connection to workplace relationships. 

Of course, HWFIP is a great tool otherwise.  It's an amazing resource for understanding how people who desire to be in sales, customer service, hospitality, donor development, and other industries can create long-term relationships with clients and make us more open to anticipating their needs.  But it outlines the theory so well that the practice is now transparent.  Clients, rather correctly, expect to be listened to, expect to be treated courteously without question, and expect to be catered to for their business.  Every client expects this, even ones whose business is less than a few percentage points of the monthly gross income.  (Because we've all had that person who comes up every month and purchases less than an average transaction and expects 100% customer service every time despite turning down Product of the Month offers and specials.)  Every guest comes in expecting to be treated as a donor, contributor to the greater causes your company dares to dream to, and your place is to accept it.  The guest awaits your attempts to warm and woo...and if they don't get their expectation level of wooing...they flit to other candles willing to burn to their desired intensities.  

And then THIS happens: A waiter comes to the manager stating that the guest is upset about their food and service, and is now summoned to the table.  The manager goes and asks about the experience and the guest regales about either specific nuances that were annoying, or food that wasn't at an expectation level, or worse has made the customer ill.  Without any warning, the manager must make a judgement call and usually gives a coupon, voucher, or comp to the guest to make up for the experience.  In the end, there are apologies and earnest promises to be better next time; followed up by discussions behind closed doors about "the way things should have been handled" from third-hand story-recipients fed party-line from corporate.

In the above story, the guest actually made the faux pas up.  The guest lied at the last minute to intentionally catch the waiter off guard (to give the impression the waitstaff wasn't paying attention to the guest properly), catch the manager in a quick solution (which appeases the guest and is amicably considered with P&L in mind), and keep the control in the customer's hands.  Which it did...but the damage isn't done.  Quality index templates are compromised and the managers need to go from bottom to top to fix the quality of the service.  This will go on for months...even after the employees have finally dismissed the anger and moved on to other customer situations to loathe because it will come back on their annual review.

Call it a one-off situation if you will.  But take a few moments as you approach someone else in a customer service scenario and examine all the parties objectively.  Did the customer service person do their best?  Did the customer truly have a complaint or was the system gamed by semantics and over-exaggerated need?  Did the manager treat both customer and employee with respect when resolving the matter?  Watch it even in your own next issue and see it for yourself.  

In conclusion, with the proliferation of customer service jobs and workplace improvement propaganda, is there no longer a game to be played anymore?  Is customer service so transparent now that it is completely proper for either parties to call out each other's BS and demand better behaviors.  In the end, can they seek compromise based off of mutual respect that is truly earned by authentic personalities instead of role-played personas instead of playing red-riding-hood/big-bad-wolf games with each other into a paralyzing, circular stalemate.  Because Carnegie has stacked the deck, in that, now the customer needs to realize that in "being right" all the time, they too fall prey to the relationship trap and can be no longer liked or tolerated.  The balance is rather precarious...but it comes down to mutual respect.  

No comments:

Post a Comment