There’s a very common trap that people in customer service/sales roles can find themselves in – transactional obsessiveness. This happens when we are faced with a transaction – perhaps a sale or customer service issue – and fail to look beyond the specific details of the transaction. For example, a customer walks into a wireless store looking for a new cell phone. The typical salesperson finds out a little information about the customer’s preferences, presents a cell phone, closes the sale, and moves on to the next customer. In another example, a customer calls the customer service number for an airline who has just cancelled a flight. The rep rebooks the flight, and offers a customer the standard $100 voucher for a future flight. Both sound pretty typical, right? Sure.

But here’s what the good service people would do: The good wireless salesperson gets interested in the person he (she) is selling to, and asks a few more questions. He learns that the customer is an international speaker, who is constantly on the go. And he learns how important it is for the customer to stay in touch with his family daily. Armed with this knowledge, he recommends a better plan, a phone that will allow the customer to make video calls, and an international long distance package. The result – the company has a bigger sale, the customer has a better solution and the sales rep has a loyal customer. Everyone wins.

Similarly, the good airline rep will listen carefully to the customer, and have empathy with the customer’s situation. In doing so, the rep learns that the customer was on her way to see her son on his birthday, and now will miss it. The rep, when responding, rebooks the flight, and offers to put the $100 voucher in the son’s name as a birthday apology. The customer is still disappointed at having missed the flight, but delighted with the response.

Sometimes we have to step back and remember that we’re not really dealing with ‘customers.’ We’re dealing with John, Susan, Fred – with a neighbour, an acquaintance, a friend, fellow sports fan – a human being, just like us. We need to interact with this person, not just deal with him or sell him. Get to know them a bit, forget the transaction, and just do what your heart tells you is right. You will almost always come up with a better solution.

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