Have You Ever Had a Customer Service Interaction Where the Person Wanted to Help You But Could Not?


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As a customer, I think one of the most frustrating phrases you can hear is….

“I’d like to help you but I can’t.”

Now let me preface my short story with a quick life lesson.

When you hear that phrase or something similar, be prepared.

Unless you are ready to do some psychological coaching with that person who uttered the phrase then it would be better just to move on.

When I hear a phrase like that, I know 99% of the time it is not the front line associate’s fault.

Do you know who’s fault it is? That employee’s direct supervisor.

Do you know who else’s fault it is? The supervisor’s manager, that manager’s Vice President, all the way up to the CEO.

I know that 99% of the time when you hear someone way, “I’d like to help you but I can’t,” they have a leader and an organization that does not enable them and/or has policies or procedures that restrict them from creating a personalized service interaction.

If you really want to have fun, instead of getting frustrated to the front line associate, politely ask to speak to his or her manager.

When that manager comes, here’s a killer question you can ask them that will be kind of fun.

When the manager approaches you smile and say, “Hi. I am wondering if you can help me?”

Typically you get, “I’ll certainly try,” or, “I’ll do my best.”

Now here’s the fun part. When you get the manager’s reply simply ask, “Why is it that your front line associates want to help but can’t?”

In my experience you’ll hear a lot of mumbling.

Or, often times they will cite the same policy or procedure that is frustrating the front line associate.

What do you think that manager’s manager is like?

The analogy Ken Blanchard used to use is that it is just a bigger duck. The higher up the organization the bigger the duck and the louder they quack.

They quack their policies, they quack their procedures until you get to the top of the organization and it is a big giant mallard.

What do ducks do besides quack?

Yes, they make a lot of messes!

What I also know to be true is that almost every human being when they wake up in the morning would choose excellence over average.

They would rather be great than ordinary.

Sadly, most organizations beat it out of them.

The next time you hear, “I’d like to help you but I can’t,” you don’t have to use my question, but invent one of your own and have some fun.

Republished with author’s permission from original post.

Peter Psichogios
Peter Psichogios is the President of CSI International Performance Group whose mission is to help companies create engaging employee and customer experiences. Prior to joining CSI International Peter served as an executive member of one of the largest Instructional System Association companies in the world. In this capacity, he led all the front-end analysis and worked directly with Dr. Ken Blanchard. Peter has been fortunate to work with the who's who of the Fortune 500, helping them deliver innovative learning, engagement and recognition solutions.


  1. It is very true Peter that it is normally not the frontline agents fault – what companies need to do is empower them by giving them the tools and, in particular, the knowledge to answer customer queries, rather than having to escalate. At UK warranty company Domestic & General, giving 1,400 agents access to centralised knowledge has reduced customer call times by 22%, while improving customer satisfaction. More in the Eptica blog at http://eptica.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/knowledge-management-in-practice-domestic-general/


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