It’s easy to picture great customer service as involving dramatic solutions to customer problems: the personal delivery of mislaid jewelry (as in this story from Zappos, where the rep purchases a plane ticket to hand-deliver the valuables himself); the saving of an evening when a well-dressed guest has a garment rip at the worst possible moment (as in this example from Seabourn Cruise Line where the tailors rally to make things right); the heroic retrieval of lost luggage (as in this anecdote from the Inn at Little Washington, where the unflappable valet drives hours to salvage a vacation); and other instances when a service professional has the opportunity to save a customer’s day.
Yet, some problems can’t be solved, no matter how much you, and your customer, wish they could be. And here is where a true customer service professional (or a true healthcare professional, or a true banking professional, or a great funeral director, and so forth) can shine.
They recognize that it’s not just what you do (or what you actually can’t do—the train actually has left the station; the prognosis actually isn’t positive) but what you do around what you do.
The kindness you exhibit, the compassion you convey, the patiently listening ears you offer.
Any technical or professional field with high stakes and serious outcomes is one where you’re likely to find service professionals rising to the occasion in these small but essential ways. I encountered this last week with a hospital administrator at Swedish Medical, here in Seattle. She often sees arriving patients on “one of the worst day of their lives,” and, at first, the situation overwhelmed her, “because I can’t fix the situation for them medically, in the way that a surgeon can.”
Yet what she has come to understand, and develop a knack for, is the value of helping in the small ways. She’s found that a caring, knowing smile can warm the heart of a worried patient–or of the spouse, child, or parent of that patient. And something as simple as explaining the parking situation, slowly and in a tone of “shared acknowledgement” can let them know that life is continuing, and that, at least in this mundane way, “we are here for them.”
CPA Tom Burdette, a founding partner at Burdette, Smith and Bish, LLC, in Northern Virginia, tells me that, after decades in the field of accounting, advising, and tax planning, he realizes that it’s “not only about saving people money on their taxes. Yes, we take that very seriously. But the psychological, lending-a-hand side of this business is just as important. Doing this work is also about reassuring clients who are enduring a tough stretch in their business that ‘we’ve seen this before, and you’ll come out the other side just fine.'”
A key here is to realize that you’re either adding to the scene or subtracting from it, any time your day intersects with that of a customer.
And wouldn’t it be better to be adding?