Are We Creating Entitled Customers?

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This post was originally published on the FCR blog on November 20, 2015.  Click here to read the original.

Credit: Jeremy Watkin

Credit: Jeremy Watkin

Last month I wrote a series of posts titled “Extraordinary Service We Don’t Deserve” and praised several companies for their efforts to compensate for something that was clearly the fault of the customer.  Before you read any further, you might want to read parts one, two, and three first.

So shortly after writing this series, one of my colleagues approached me and said, “Hey, I love those posts, but isn’t there something wrong about this?”  Great question!

Are we raising up a generation of entitled customers?  I have a few thoughts on this matter and I think it requires answering a few questions.

Are customers taking advantage of us?

The back and forth with the customer goes something like this:

Customer makes a mistake.
           We compensate the customer for their mistake — also known as a do-over.
                        (Repeat more than once in some cases)

As a customer service manager, I dealt with more than one case where a customer filed a Better Business Bureau complaint or smeared us on social media.  Upon looking into the issue, I found out that the customer was often in a cycle of not paying on time, getting deactivated, calling support, begging for more time to pay, not paying, getting deactivated, and on and on.  At some point, the customer service team would say “Enough is enough!” and cut the customer off.  Naturally, the only options for the customer are to either pay their bill or kick and scream until they get their way.

On the flip side, there are customers that actually do make mistakes.  They miss a deadline, or honestly break something, or lose their job, or have some other stroke of bad luck.  Which leads me to my next question.

How do we determine who the real customers are?

Different businesses have different definitions of a customer.  In every business I’ve worked in, being a customer requires that you pay, or at least intend to very soon.  This post isn’t about dazzling you with a bunch of facts and figures based on research.  I don’t actually have any handy.  In that spirit, I will boldly say that 99% of people who call for help, are in fact customers.

So that leaves 1% who are posing as customers so they can suck valuable time and resources from your company for their own personal gain.  The difficult thing from the customer service perspective is trying to discern who those folks are.  This leads me to my next question.

Is it the job of customer service to determine who the real customers are?

Most customer service professionals are fairly streetwise when it comes to determining if someone is telling the truth or not.  In a case where it’s obvious abuse or even fraud, it’s ok to take a stand.  There are two things that can help:

  1. Get the blessing of a supervisor or manager.  A second set of eyes always helps.
  2. Look for patterns of behavior either in the customer notes or where someone might be doing the same thing across multiple accounts.  This is one reason account notes are so valuable.

In another regard, it’s sort of not the job of customer service.  As I mentioned earlier in this series, there are so many companies with extremely lenient return policies.  Policies like this are not just customer-friendly, they are customer service friendly.  The customer service team gets the opportunity to delight the 100% and not worry about that 1% that might be taking advantage.

This leads me to my final question.

So what should we do about this culture of entitlement we’re creating with our customers?

This is a fair question.  We’re so focused on delighting customers these days that there’s a very real fear that we’re going to get walked all over.  My response to this question is threefold:

  1. Everybody’s doing it!  Part of the reason we’re so much more focused on customer delight is that everyone is loosening up their policies and becoming more focused on customer delight.  In the age of social media, companies are more accountable than ever to deliver great service, or they risk sticking out like a sore thumb.
  2. It’s human!  I really like the human element behind allowing customers to make the occasional mistake free of consequence.  Rather than standing behind some concrete policy, companies are letting humans, who are by nature imperfect, give other imperfect humans a second chance.  Talk about a great way to build customer loyalty.
  3. The good outweighs the bad!  This would be a great place for a stat, but alas, I’ll shoot from the hip instead.  Say you take a stand and the customer is actually a part of the 99%.  You risk losing a customer for life that would have brought a whole lot more value to your company than the cost of correcting their error.  Also remember that unhappy customers tell a whole lot more people about their experience than happy customers.

So you’re saying to do nothing?

Well sort of.  What I’m saying is that I stand by my belief that companies need to continue to give customers extraordinary service they don’t deserve.  Or maybe I’m saying that customers actually deserve that level of service because they are the customer.  Regardless, I stand by my belief that it’s the right thing to do and the companies that do it well will succeed.  Do you agree or disagree?

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