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Three Uncustomary Customer Service Mindsets That Deliver

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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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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 (, a one-click desktop-sharing service in Arlington, Massachusetts.

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  • by Carl Oats Tue Aug 5, 2008 via web

    That's the spirit!

  • by Amanda Thu Aug 7, 2008 via web

    Great points!

    "Then show them your gratitude by accommodating them like crazy."

    One of the easiest and inexpensive ways of doing this, often overlooked, is by speaking to customers in their own language. Having parts of your website translated into the languages of your customer base, for example, proves that you want to accomodate and help your customers. The ROI for this investment can be tremendous.

    [link removed, please use your profile to post personal links]

  • by Mike Thu Aug 7, 2008 via web

    Being responsive is what people will remember you for. Don't make guarantees or committments just respond. Often times we want to tell someone that we can do something. I acutally like to tell them that we may not be able to do it and then deliver it. People like to see action.

  • by Stephen Bender Fri Aug 8, 2008 via web

    This is an interesting concept. Specifically for Leaders in a service focused operation, try applying this idea to your employees. Many organizations put the customer first, but leaders often overlook their critical focus point - the emplyee. When you spend time training, caring for and communicating to your front line, you enable them to solve more problems and truly become the service hero like this article mentions. How would you feel if your boss treated you like the CEO? Pretty empowering, huh?

    Stephen Bender
    [link removed, please use your profile to post personal links]

  • by 'Lola Oye-Lawrence Tue Aug 26, 2008 via web

    I think the principle of promising (not necessarily "under-promising", lest your client think you a blast from a distant, SLOW past) and over-delivering still holds - nothing delights like delivering on Wednesday when you promised Friday or the simplicity of calling in (as ahead of time as you can manage) to shift delivery due to clearly unavoidable delays.

  • by idris N A Tue Dec 16, 2008 via web

    The article stress the importance of letting your customer know that he is recognised as a success factor in the survival and growth of your organisation.

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