6 customer service practices that do more harm than good

Reprinted with permission from Customer Service Champions

Customer service training, when it is good, will make a profound difference to the way that customers perceive an organization. Unfortunately, there are still some common customer service practices which are taught that are ineffective at best. At worst they are counterproductive. Here are six of them:

1. “Treat Customers The Way You Would Like To Be Treated”

This is one of the four myths of customer service. Not all customers are like you. You need to treat them the way they would like to be treated.

2. (Retail) Greet Customers The Moment They Walk In A Store

Variations of the “ten-feet-ten-seconds” rule has been a staple of retail for decades. But this really isn’t a good idea. Retail researcher Paco Underhill tells us that all stores have a customer ‘landing strip.’ This is a dead zone of sorts – that first few seconds where customers are busy acclimatizing to the environment. This is a bad time to jump in and say “Hi.” It will make customers uncomfortable, and can trigger the auto-response of “just looking,” which, as every retailer knows, is code for “leave me alone.”

3. Begin A Service Call With ‘What Seems To Be The Problem?’

It would seem to make sense that when a customer calls and says, “I’m having a problem,” that we should ask “what kind of problem are you having?” or something along those lines. It is, of course, an important question. They just shouldn’t be the first words we should say to a customer. Begin instead with, “Oh no – let’s see what we can do to fix it.” You can then follow with “What kind of problem are you having?” This sends the message right off the bat that you care.

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4. Don’t Admit That You Don’t Know

There is more than one customer service training program espousing that it is bad to admit when you don’t know something.


Quite the opposite is true. In fact, there are few ways to earn a customer’s trust faster than to say something like: “Wow, that is a great question, and I actually don’t know the answer to it. Can you give me a moment to look into it? I want to make sure I get this right for you.” Honesty and integrity are at he core of customer service.

5. Work Faster

Whether you are a cashier with a lineup, a customer service representative with a long telephone queue, or in an office with a gigantic pile on your desk, the natural impulse is to just put your head down and plow through. Big mistake.

As my mother-in-law often says, “too much hurry, not enough speed.” When customers can see you, as in the situation with a cashier, the best thing to do is to take a nanosecond to look up at the people in line, smile and say something like, “I’ll get to you soon, I promise!” You will be amazed at how much more patient people will become.

If you’re on the phone with a long queue, it is far more important to get it right than get it done quickly – thus preventing mistakes and escalations. If you are in an office, the most effective strategy is to manage expectations by keeping people up to date, and advising them of potential delays.

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6. Don’t Take Complaints Personally

This doesn’t work for two reasons. The first is that it is part of our human physiology to have an emotional response to someone who is upset. It is quite natural. We can’t just ‘turn it off,’ and it takes significant skill to manage our emotions in those circumstances.

The second is that we never want customers to perceive that we don’t care. We should take it personally that one of our customers isn’t happy. That’s a big part of taking ownership. When someone is upset, the best strategy is to put yourself in their shoes and channel your emotion into empathy.

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