Everyone has a customer service horror story, especially at this time of year when a large percentage of the population is traveling for the holidays; nerves are frayed and airline employees are stretched to their limits as they cope with the crowds and the inevitable delays, missed connections and missing luggage. These are the stories that will be told and retold over the next couple of weeks. What we don’t hear about nearly as often are the good news stories of the individual employee who went out of her way to get something done or to sort out a problem.
One reason for this is that the events that spark the good news stories probably don’t happen as often as the bad news ones and, when they do, customers generally attribute them to the individual employee, rather than to any particularly effective policy of the company involved. That is something arising from my customer research that has often intrigued me — that customers will tend to blame the company when something goes wrong but will give the individual employee credit for making things right.
I think there is an interesting psychology at work here. I believe that, for the most part, companies (and large corporations and government agencies, in particular) are seen as large, impersonal, often-uncaring entities. On the other hand, individual employees are seen to be people like me who ought to see my side of the story and to be able to identify with me and the problems I am dealing with. And, generally, that is the case. Employees typically do see the customer’s side of the story and wish they could sort things out for him.
But, employees of many companies are frustrated with the rules and regulations that govern their interaction with customers, with the scripts that tell them what to say and when to say it, what to offer and what to hold back on. Progressive companies are realizing that such restrictions, while important in keeping employee behavior within tolerable limits, really gets in the way of solving customer problems and of protecting customer relationships.
The front-line employee with whom the customer deals directly has the greatest potential to resolve customer issues before they escalate to relationship-breaking proportion. Let them take the time and give them the resources to get on with it.