Through some type of organic evolution of responsibilities across eleven years of marriage, my wife and I have arrived at a division of labor that tends towards me handling the matters that require interaction with people – making the phone calls, carrying on email correspondence, haggling with car salesmen, etc. and her taking the more clerical, solitary work. There are certainly exceptions, but for the most part, I am the one who gets to engage in most of the live customer experience (CX) interactions. I consider myself lucky. Not only do I think this arrangement generally leads to better outcomes for our family, CX research and consulting is a huge part of what I do for a living, thereby granting me a certain frame of reference that I enjoy using.
At present, we are A) in the midst of selling a home in a city far away from the one in which we reside, B) entering the market to purchase a new one, C) dealing with a car dealership that has taken 34 days (and counting!) to fix a car that was stolen and wrecked, D) coordinating with the five insurance adjusters that such an event triggers, E) negotiating the terms of purchasing a second car that is just coming to the end of its lease, and F) tending to all of the usual stuff that comes with life, liberty and the raising of two children under the age of 4. To say I have had an unusually high number of recent calls, emails, in-person visits, e-chats, etc. as a customer in need of service would be an understatement on the order of calling Jaws a fish.
About a week ago, I found myself staring up a mountain of people and companies and organizations I had to contact. So, in a somewhat irritated mood, I picked up the phone.
My first call was to the contractor who is doing some light repairs and painting at the old house. He, as contractors often do, informed me that he wasn’t going to finish by the agreed upon date, but that I was not to worry because I would get to pay him more money.
The second call was to the power company where I needed to switch from our tenant account back to one solely in our names. It was transformative.
The representative with whom I spoke was just an ace at customer engagement. She was one of those people that is born to work with customers and she had exactly the right balance of good training, policy guidelines, empowerment to handle my needs and freedom to interact with me in a way that let her use her personality and innate talents to put herself directly in the shoes of (I assume) every customer she speaks to. What I thought would be a boring call, at best, and had the potential to be fraught with problems, turned out to be so good that I asked her to escalate me to her boss so I could compliment her work. She did. They had an established process for doing so, and by the time they thanked me, and we ended the call I was reborn.
Where there was once a brooding pessimism about the chores in front of me, there was now a profound happiness. It seemed so simple. She made me feel great, I got to reciprocate by spending another minute on the call and we must’ve both parted ways in better shape than we had been in before we spoke. It felt like some sort of drug and I decided I wanted more.
Over the course the next few days, as I methodically checked items off of the “to do” list, I had absolutely everyone who provided me with a good customer service experience escalate me to their boss so I could tell them about it. When I say “everyone,” I mean everyone. I had the kid who gave my daughter an extra half scoop of gummy bears on her ice cream bring his boss out from the back so I could tell him what an asset he had on his hands. Three of my five claims adjusters were escalated, and I sincerely hope the other two heard about it. My wife has been spearheading the process of finding a new realtor, so when she asked me to reach out to one and I immediately over-serviced her request, she didn’t see the humor in my suggestion that I should probably be escalating her to herself. At one point, I had a woman escalate me to her boss, then had her boss escalate me to his boss so that I could compliment the efficiency and courteousness of the initial escalation process. That boss would have escalated me to his boss, but he was out of town. I’m pretty sure if you tap into the right channel, you can make it all the way to… Bill Gates?
There are three things I’d like any reader to take away from this blog post.
1. You must try this sometime, or even all the time. Do not let great customer service suffer from the “NFL Kicker Syndrome” where you only notice when they miss. I recommend it when you have a flurry of contacts to handle so you can sustain the experience for as long as possible.
2. Positive customer experiences can have an impact so deep and powerful that they can cause a psychic hurricane of positivity on an order of magnitude that it could probably be considered by the FDA as a treatment for mood disorders, depression, anxiety, etc. It wasn’t just that it made me feel “happy” or “satisfied,” it was something deeper. Bigger.
A few days into the whole exercise, I ran into a real piece of work at the service department of the dealership fixing my car. I was nearing the end of my “to do” list and when I called, this guy was condescending, rude and kept calling me “buddy” in a tone that was obviously intended to let me know he was anything but. It was a bummer. Even though they are taking longer to fix my car than my cat would need to fix a space shuttle, I had every intention of escalating the call if it had gone like so many before. Instead, I told the guy all about my little policy initiative and how close he came to an escalation if he had only tried a little harder. It was a mistake. He was unmoved and my stream of positivity and awesome CX came to an end. I was reminded that…
3. As quickly as you can start a whirlwind of positivity and build customer loyalty with great CX management and execution, you can end one even faster. Most every touchpoint will end in a more engaged or less engaged customer. They almost never end on the same footing that they began. Each one is an opportunity and you never know when you might be speaking to a habitual escalator.
For more on the psychology of great customer service, here’s an interesting piece.