Customer service isn’t a strategy.

For decades organizations and leaders have tried to determine the secret to successful customer service. We have developed strategies and implemented processes all in an effort to get closer to engaging customers and selling our products/services. But does all of that matter?

About a week ago, I was on Facebook and I stumbled upon a video that most of you have likely already have seen. If you haven’t, please take a minute or two to watch.

Exhibit A for great customer service right? Now before you go thinking that this is a great little viral ad for Starbucks (which it is), I think we need to look beneath the surface and determine where great customer service comes from.

This is Sarah Campbell. She is also a Starbucks barista. Do me a favor and watch this video and “listen” to what she is saying.

“You have to understand, the reason I started working for Starbucks is that I love communicating with people. Oh my goodness, I love it so much!” – Sarah Campbell

So where does great customer service come from? It’s roots are grounded in empathy. Truly caring for another person. Seems Starbucks is doing a pretty decent job of finding people who actually care.

You can develop customer service strategies. You can enlist best practices. You can train your people how to smile, greet, and talk to kindly to people. But if they don’t truly care, the proper strategies, best practices, to-do’s and processes make for some great icing, but in the end, the cake will crumble.

Customer service isn’t found in expediting a product delivery process. It’s not optimizing your product life-cycle. That’s par for the course. Customer service is found in caring, looking beyond your product and service and meeting your customers where they’re at.

Because, let’s be honest, you don’t define customer service. Your customers do.

Why your brand needs a heart.

For years I’ve been fascinated at how communication can effect organizations, inside and out. Consider the last time you went to an establishment where you were purchasing a product or using a service. How were you greeted? Did you feel a sense of belonging, did associates make you feel welcome and/or comfortable?

Photograph: jess-sanson/Flickr/CC
Photograph: jess-sanson/Flickr/CC

Our family went bowling recently. We had never been to this bowling alley, so I had zero expectations. We walked in and up to the counter where two gentlemen were waiting, and I said hello. The older gentleman followed with a solemn hello and proceeded to gaze at us with a “well, what will it be?” stare. Needless to say, the feelings of “welcome” or “comfort”, were not at the top of the list.

{Sidebar: Okay, so I need to give him the benefit of the doubt. I mean he’s managing a rotating used shoe stand on a Saturday afternoon…}

This experience happened on the heels of an article I read titled, “It’s Time To Get Real: Humanize Your Brand“. In the article one of the terms used was “Brand Humanization”. This is a term used to define how a brand can develop more “human” characteristics.

Um, am I missing something here? When did organizations start implementing the “Tin Man” strategy? Like the woodsman, it seems we have forgotten to give our associates a heart.

“I can barely hear my heart beating!” – Tin Man

Let me put your mind at ease. I don’t believe this challenge requires a new fandagled “brand humanization” process. It simply takes leaders, managers and individuals who are willing to get emotional. So let’s press the reset button and highlight just a few ways we can help the Tin Man find his heart.

Emotion is a competitive advantage: There was an article written by Olivia McIvor in a medical tech journal many years ago titled “The Business of Kindness – Building Leadership Character Traits”. In it Olivia describes a simple concept that could transform our businesses;

“Kindness in business is simple. Always remember before you speak or take any action, ask yourself three imperative questions; Is it truthful? Is it necessary? And above all, is it kind?” – Olivia McIvor

Business is a funny thing. We develop strategies to effectively operationalize our workflows, we implement processes to optimize our go to market goals. But so many leaders leave out the most important part of running them; that people are what bring it all to life. And what better way to impact your associates and customers, than to understand how “they” operate. The Tin Man needed oil to keep moving, we need emotion.

Photograph: © Wizard of Oz/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Photograph: © Wizard of Oz/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Associates are not made of metal: I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible organizations over the last 15 years. Fortune 100 and 500 companies alike. Every business that desires growth, develops continuity. The goal is to ensure that each customer has the very same experience with the business, products and/or services. But creating systems and processes can leave your associates feeling lifeless. If we replaced the “10 steps to delivering great customers service”, with the vision of “delighting the customer”, I think we’d be well on our way to having more human interactions. This approach requires trust to be sure, but with the proper guidance, enabling your associates to have their hands on the drivers of change will empower them to make decisions that come from the heart.

Relationships are human: Relationship is key to the business model. For years, conducting business has been relegated to performing “transactions”. This is where many businesses miss out on a huge opportunity. Organizations are made up of people. Customers are people. So where has the relationship gone? A transaction is the act of buying or selling. But a relationship is a “connection”. It has meaning and purpose. It is a bond that goes beyond a product or service. When we remove the emotional nature of business from our interactions, we take away one of the most important elements of business. The relationship.

“When we remove the emotional nature of business from our interactions, we take away one of the most important elements of business. The relationship.”

But this relationship goes both ways doesn’t it? As customers, we are an equal part to the equation. I firmly believe it is our responsibility to not simply request service that is full of heart, but to reciprocate it. In the face of a difficult customer experience, what is our response? Do we diffuse the situation or fan the flame? It’s a two way street.

The good news is that our bowling alley experience didn’t end at the front counter. We had planned on ordering a pizza but when I asked the kind woman behind the counter how long it would take, realized that it would not be ready in time for us to eat it. Five minutes later, the same woman came to our lane with a pizza that had not been prepared correctly for another customer and they were going to toss it. She offered it to us, and we gladly accepted.

At that moment the bowling alley became “human”. Instead of following a procedure or process, the woman acted on an human instinct and created an incredible impression on our experience, and stomachs.

Homework: I’d like to offer the challenge posed by Olivia in her article. “…in the next 48 hours, stand up for an ideal, and send forth a tiny ripple of hope. Commit an act of kindness and participate in transforming the world…” by being human.

What do you think? What are some other ways we can add heart back to into our brand experiences? Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter.