Die a Hero or Live Long Enough to be the Villain – A Ballad of Customer Service

May 8, 2017

Customer service is hard. Yet it's also really, really satisfying and is of course, absolutely vital to any business.

As business owners we want to give our customers the very best service, the very best experience and of course, we want them to feel valued and always completely satisfied by our product or service.

But the reality is, you can't please everyone. No one can.

I'm a big believer in the art of the “pleasant surprise” – making the experience that someone has with your business so very, very good that every time, the customer is pleasantly surprised.

It's just good business sense to make sure that people are happy and that wherever possible, you can solve any query or problem that someone has with your business in a fair and positive way, remembering to exceed the expectations of the customer.

Many businesses, mine included and certainly many of the startups that I work with, build customer service that exceeds expectations into their business from day one.

In the early days, there's nothing more powerful than feedback and one of the most reliable ways of gathering genuine feedback is from a customer, or even a prospect, who is having a hard time with your product.

Customers can have bad days, you can't. Ever.

It's rare, or at least less common, to hear from people who are happy with your product.

People don't tend to get in touch with you unless they need something from you and, just like you and I, customers become frustrated by whatever it is that is causing them issue and often, fire off a scathing email or tweet because in that instant, your product is the worst thing on the planet to them.

We all do it.

And it's alright for a customer to have a bad day.

Usually, all that is required is an empathetic response, a quality solution, an explanation of exactly what happened (this may be the most important part!), the assurance that you're always around for the customer and the offer of as much help as they need, at any point.

Here's the deal: “it” is always your fault.

Regardless of what has gone wrong for the customer, whether it's their fault or not, YOU are the one to blame.


Because you're representing the product or service that is causing the customer issues at that point.

And the path of least resistance for the customer is to shoot off at the person in the firing line, often without any rational thought or receptiveness to reason.

And that's ok!

Remember, it's a moment of frustration.

Our job as providers is to solve problems, that is it. The moment that we pass blame, even in the most sincere of ways, to a customer – even when the issue IS the customer's fault – we begin to lose them.

It's up to us to educate the customer and provide steps that transfer the knowledge that you take for granted to that customer so that they feel looked after and importantly, equipped to deal with the issue if it ever arises again.

People need fulfilment and empowerment to avoid frustration. Give it to them with a smile.

Die a Hero or Live Long Enough to be the Villain

When you set out your customer service goals – aka pleasantly surprising your customers at every turn – you make your bed.

You have to lay in that bed and you have to live it every day.

I'm a huge fan, certainly in the early days of a business, of the founders doing as much customer service as they possibly can, as long as it's not to the detriment of the bigger picture.

The reason for this is simple: gathering feedback is vital and you have to know what is really being said about your business.

The challenge is that you can do too much good work.

Here's a truth: If you set your stall out to provide best in class customer service then one day, that won't be good enough.

Let me elaborate.

Providing a constantly high-quality level of customer service is a given. You should be doing that at all times.

This will forge amazing relationships and the customers who realise this will become strong advocates for your business.

And those people will remain your strongest allies through thick and thin. They will expect the same level of customer service forever, become reliant upon it and really value it.

There are, however, a portion of your customers who will always want more.

I remember when I first started training with weights. Everything looked so heavy, until I'd been experiencing it for a while and then actually, it became normal.

And so, I pushed myself more and expected more from myself.

I became used to being treated in a certain way by my body and because I was so accustomed to it, I forgot what it was like to experience anything any different.

So I wanted more and more.

Customer service is like this.

People become so accustomed to great service that they forget just how great it is. And then a portion of your customers will come to expect more, but not from themselves, from you.

This is where you've lived long enough to become the villain.

Nothing you do will be good enough and you'll feel held to ransom in your own business.

Customer service processes will be circumvented, every request you get will be “urgent” and the “thank you”s will stop coming.

But again, only from a portion of your customers.

As a business owner, this is amazing feedback – customers who treat you like that reveal themselves to be motivated by their own needs, usually presenting themselves as highly important and showing a blatant disregard for the needs of anyone else.

Worse, this kind of behaviour places undue stress and pressure on your business because the moment that you deliver even better service to these customers, perhaps expediting their work in order to quash their “complaints”, you set the next level of expectation for them.

So the next time they request help, they'll expect you to jump for them.

And so the relationship runs the risk of breaking down because you have a choice: continue to increase the already amazing level of service that this small portion of customers stamp their feet for, which results in you simply not wanting to work with them; or kindly and empathetically explain that your processes are there for a reason and that your customer service levels are already exceptional, which can result in the customer throwing their toys out of the pram and saying that it's still not good enough.

Ultimately, it's up to you decide whether you're willing to let a small portion of your customer base dictate to you how you should run your customer service department.

Your customers deserve amazing service, but your business deserves amazing customers.

Don't forget, the more you expect from yourself, the more you WILL excel!

Mark Asquith

That British podcast guy, Mark is co-founder of Captivate.fm, the world's only growth-oriented podcast host. A Harvard, TEDx, Podcast Movement and Podfest speaker (amongst many more!), he's a wildly approachable Brit and Star Wars/DC Comics geek.

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