I had a customer service need today. I called the company, whom we’ll call Canadian Mozy, and got a very nice young man named “Johnny.” He seemed to have a genuine American accent, clearly understood my issue, and was able to respond in complete sentences. That’s a good first start. Sometimes, I call a company and someone with a thick foreign accent answers, introducing himself as “Biff Johnson.” That’s a bad sign, especially if you recognize the accent and know that folks in that culture rarely have names like Biff. When a company’s first instruction to their phone reps is, “lie about your name,” you know you’re in for a real treat.

A lot of companies know that having polite reps who tell the truth makes a good impression. Canadian Mozy certainly understood this.

Johnny listened to my problem and explained, “we used to do what you’re asking for. We see we’ve done it for you several times. But our new policy is that we won’t do it any more.” Interestingly, I was asking for something that had no business implications for Canadian Mozy. It did not require them to spend a penny on my request. It did not expose them to any additional risk, nor did it obligate them to anything in the future. It was free for them to provide, they’d provided it before, and some random mid-level pinheaded bureaucrat decided to retract the policy.

Did I get good service? Johnny provided extremely polite service. He was gracious and dealt with my hissing, booing, and making funny noises into the phone with professional aplomb. But he was powerless to fix the situation.

As a result, I’m pulling tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of business from Canadian Mozy and shifting it to other vendors. Though Canadian Mozy likes to trumpet themselves as a “partner” to the small businessperson, they aren’t. Their reps aren’t allowed to think for themselves, and the managers who set their policies don’t understand a whit about how to evaluate the actual business impact of a policy decision. They eliminated a policy that gave customers great value at no expense to themselves, and never thought about how customers might react.

This brings me to the much misunderstood truth about customer service:

  • Good customer service requires good style. Your customer support reps must speak the language of your callers, shouldn’t tell obvious lies, and should be polite, courteous, and trained to deal with irate, irrational customers.
  • Good customer service also requires good execution. Your customer support reps must have the training to investigate someone’s problem, and the ability to do something about it, especially when the request is one you’ve honored in the past and which has no downside for you but tremendous upside for your customer.

If you’re missing style or executions, customers get upset. In the language of kindergarten, good support comes down to: be polite and keep your promises.

Customer service requires substance and style

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