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Outlining a surpassingly brilliant service protocol is one of 49 things you have to finish by last Tuesday.

You've wolfed down lunch in record time and have seven minutes before your next meeting—time enough to Google "customer service tips," which brings up terabytes of platitudes on friendliness, knowledge, going the extra mile, blah, blah, blah.

You know these cookie-cutter best-practices probably work, but they're too obvious and stale to motivate your people toward new plateaus.

It's starting to look like your seven minutes have been squandered... but just then, by a wonderful click of fate, you find an article (this one) offering three unusual mindsets that your team may actually find useful.

1. Stop helping the customer!

Sounds counterintuitive, but here's the deal: It's not a helper/helped vibe you're going for. You want it to feel like a collaborative effort based on mutual respect. Avoid slipping into that "Mac guy" persona—the overly likeable know-it-all played by Justin Long, who's so effortlessly hip and helpful that you sort of want to push him under a bus.

One way to lose the irritating "helper" mannerism is by realizing that customers are helping you more than you're helping them. After all, customer feedback helps your company grow. Hang on your customer's every helpful word. Marvel at their observations. Make them feel like an insider. Then show them your gratitude by accommodating them like crazy.

You've just made a friend for life—by letting them help you.

2. Live in a fantasy world

Pretend that your customer is really your company's CEO in disguise—how would you act differently? Imagine it's your mom or your friend on the other end. What kind of preferential treatment would you give them? Start giving that same treatment to everyone!

Now, fantasize that your customer is an unsung hero—perhaps a benevolent double agent who recently risked her life to save the world from nuclear destruction. She works two jobs to support her nine kids and ailing grandmother, plus she spends weekends saving puppies and kittens, and entertaining sick children in a Bolivian hospital. She does all this... and right now she needs your help.

With this sort of fantasy in mind, your service should be nothing short of fantastic.

3. Dominate the scorebook by putting away the rulebook

Meryl Streep didn't win her 11 nominations for Best Actress by following best-practices. Michael Jordan didn't learn how to average 30 points a game by reading a bullet-pointed article. And your company will never cut through the clutter and win acolytes by following a cut-and-paste "Ten Commandments" of customer service.

Unlock your service reps' superstar potential by throwing away the rulebook. Encourage creativity, boldness, and authenticity. Enlist their help in eradicating scripted, saccharin service calls from the face of the earth. Tell them your CEO has made a moral choice to embrace the soft science of human interaction over the hard science of metrics—come hell or high water. With this lofty mindset in place, every customer interaction will be a slam-dunk.

* * *

These ideas may seem frivolous at face value, especially next to the dry procedures that dominate the customer service industry. But there's really nothing frivolous about helping your staff internalize the three mindsets above, which are, essentially, these:

  1. People are wise.
  2. People are intrinsically special.
  3. People will think you're special, too—no script needed.

With your mind in the right place, your interactions will crackle with the intangibles you need to transform customers into loyal friends. Stay on track by using creative imagery, thought experiments, inspiring case studies—anything but more soul-killing rules. The loose, authentic approach is sure to serve your customers, and your staff, just fine.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Levitt is the CEO of Mad Mimi in New York and is responsible for tactical aspects of Mad Mimi's development and brand. Gary was born on a remote farm in Southern Africa and went to school with Nelson Mandela's grandchildren; he was also a skateboard pro and champion, and a professional bass player.
Rich Baker is CEO of Glance (www.glance.net), a one-click desktop-sharing service in Arlington, Massachusetts.