Outward Focus and The Customer Service Tightrope
Delivering outstanding customer service depends on our ability to connect with customers in a meaningful way. There is a bit of a tightrope involved in this. On one hand we want to be professional. On the other, we want to be human. Lean too far on either side, however, and can find ourselves in trouble. Here are two scenarios to illustrate:
Susan works in a call center. She tries her best to be professional, and let customers know that she is knowledgeable and competent. She chooses her spoken and written words carefully, and always errs on the side of formality – carefully following company protocols.
When, for example, customers describe a challenge they are facing, she might respond with something like: “Thank you for providing me with this useful information. I apologize that you are experiencing difficulties. May I please request your name and account number?”
Bob works in a hardware store. He is focused on being ‘authentic’ and wants customers to know that he is friendly and empathetic. He always has a big smile, and tries to personalize every contact.
When, for example, customers describe a challenge they are facing, Bob might respond with something like: “Well, that sucks. It sounds like something my ex would do, you know? Listen, buddy, if you can give me your account number and name, I’ll see what I can do.”
Each of these scenarios is an illustration of behaviour that will alienate customers. In the first, Susan has equated competence with emotional distance. In the second, Bob has equated authenticity with bluntness and absence of tact. Both have fallen off the tightrope.
What went wrong?
Susan and Bob’s actions might be well intended, but they are ultimately sending negative messages to their customers. Susan’s dispassionate demeanour sends the message that she doesn’t really care about her customers. Bob’s unfiltered approach tells customers that he doesn’t respect them enough to behave in a professional manner.
What's missing? Outward focus
These scenarios are examples of a need for greater outward focus. Outward focus is the willingness to put the needs and comfort of our customers ahead of our own. It is an essential mindset for creating outstanding customer service. In Susan’s case, her concern was that customers perceive her as competent. She was focused on herself. Bob’s concern was behaving in a manner that makes him comfortable. This is also self-focused.
The guide to staying on the tightrope
Outward focus is our guide to staying on the tightrope. When our customers are the focus of our thoughts, actions and words, creating outstanding customer experiences becomes easier. But it’s not easy.
Developing an outward focus can only happen when we have the courage to put our own needs and egos on the shelf. When we are prepared to say in our words and actions: “Right now, at this moment in time, I am yours – and there is nothing more important to me right now than you. At this moment in time my only need is to ensure that yours are met.”
This is hard for most of us. Impossible for some. But the payoff, for our customers and ourselves, can be tremendous. It’s not for everyone, but that’s why those who embrace it stand out so much.