The Precarious Art Of Engaging Emotionally In Customer Service


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Jenny and I were in a meeting the other day talking about project priorities with our engineers.  We were trying to gauge which project to work on first.  One potentially affected a lot of customers and the other affected one, smaller customer — but it affected her in such a way that she was quite emotional about the impact it had on her business.

As a manager, it was easy for me to pick which one to work on first– the one affecting the most people.  Jenny, however was not happy with that decision.  Why?  Because she had the privilege of making an emotional connection with that customer.  She was the one who would likely have to tell someone in a difficult position that they might have to wait longer.

Being removed from the situation, I found it really insightful to compare our emotional investment in the issue.  As customer service leaders, there are pros and cons to being removed from the front lines.  In the post to follow, I’m going to ask Jenny a few questions to get her perspective on this.

Question #1- Jenny, in this specific case, which issue would you have prioritized?

Jenny- I would have most definitely picked the one where the customer’s service wasn’t working. While the issue affecting many customers was incredibly important, don’t get me wrong, their service was still working. This customer’s business was on the line which made it high priority.

Question #2- What if you were in my shoes?  Do you think you still would have sided with the single customer over the issue that affected the many?

Jenny- Oh boy, gotta throw in the shoes question. I had a feeling this was coming! Well, again, this is a challenge. I feel that one customer’s service not working at all is urgent. I suppose if the issue that affected a lot of customers was more serious, then yes, absolutely, focus on that. The fact is that it didn’t is why I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. But, again, it could be the emotional connection speaking.

Question #3- I think at the core of this is empathy and seeking to understand.  When you are working with an agent that is working with a customer, how do you keep your empathy engaged?

Jenny- I always try (“try” being the key word) to make sure that the agent is aware that they are doing an amazing job working with the customer on a stressful situation. I try to understand the issue through the eyes of the agent, seeing it as urgent as they are seeing it. I focus on what I can personally do to get the job done, being mindful of what is already on my plate. I try to empower the agent to help resolve the situation on their level, without them feeling overwhelmed. I try to provide as much instruction or resources that I can. I evaluate the impact this situation is causing the customer and determine if I need to drop everything I’m doing to jump on it. Usually I will end up doing that, but I also know that I need to work on reevaluating my priorities. It’s not an easy task to take on, that’s for sure.

Question #4- Now that we are removed from this situation, is there anything you would do differently to bridge the gap between the customer, management and development?

Jenny- Well, what’s interesting is that the result of this situation turned out to be something bigger that could potentially affect other customers. But, looking back on it, I almost feel I would have pushed a bit more to have the issue looked into sooner. I know this probably isn’t the answer you want to hear! (teehee) But, okay, I will admit it, your spin on questions from a different angle did allow me to really dive into more thought about what the agent is seeing, on the front lines, with the customer. They are reaching out to management because they believe that management can help fix the problem. They put their trust into management and while they don’t expect a magical fix, they do expect to feel empowered, respected and appreciated for their work on a problem. I need to remember this always when I get asked questions.

Now, I’m curious–what are YOUR thoughts?!

Hey, I never gave you permission to interview me.  Actually, reading Jenny’s responses has really got me thinking now.  As customer service professionals we are in a precarious position.  The closer we are to the customer, the more we want to drop everything and fix their issue right away.  It can be tricky to balance this with all of the issues that arise on a regular basis.

That being said, it is a privilege to be able to collaborate with our engineers on priorities to make sure they are working on the projects that have the most impact on our customers and their experience.  When our emotions kick in, it definitely adds an extra layer of complexity but hey, that’s customer service right?  We are in the business of serving other human beings.  Who ever said customer service was easy?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jeremy Watkin
Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Support and CX at NumberBarn. He has more than 20 years of experience as a contact center professional leading highly engaged customer service teams. Jeremy is frequently recognized as a thought leader for his writing and speaking on a variety of topics including quality management, outsourcing, customer experience, contact center technology, and more. When not working he's spending quality time with his wife Alicia and their three boys, running with his dog, or dreaming of native trout rising for a size 16 elk hair caddis.


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