Customer Service

We all have had our frustrating moments dealing with the customer service departments of companies. The experience usually leaves one more confused or riled than ‘serviced’.

In my capacity as a business consultant, I was once talking to the Customer Service executives of a large company which sold some Industrial Products.  The number of customers was relatively small and most of them were large organisations.

This is the story I told them to illustrate what effective customer service should be.

A King once commissioned a well-known Master Sculptor to make a 20 feet high marble statue of his late father (which he wanted to install at a prominent place in the city).

The Sculptor worked patiently and completed the statue in 6 months. He then invited the King for final inspection. The statue had come out very well – almost a life like similarity with the late King. The King gave the statue a thorough scan. He appreciated the hard work done by the Sculptor but said, “I think the nose needs some rework. It is not straight and appears slightly tilted towards one side.”

The sculptor agreed with the King and requested him to wait for some time while he rectified the defect. He got on to a tall ladder to access the nose and started working with his chisel and hammer. Small pieces of marble, which he chipped away fell, to the ground. After 10 minutes of working, he came down and requested the King to inspect the statue again. This time, the King was satisfied, calling it “A Perfect Statue” and gave the sculptor a large sum in reward.

An assistant of the Sculptor was watching all this carefully. After the King departed, he asked the Master, “Sir, did you actually agree with the King’s comment that the nose of the statue was bent to a side? Because to me it looked perfect.”

The sculptor smiled and said, “when a client or customer complains about your product, it could mean many things. Some complaints, where functionality of the product is involved, may be because the product may not be performing to his expectations. Its reason could be a defect in the product itself, or a problem in his method of using the product. For a product like a commissioned statue, a complaint may be a matter of his perception. In any case, we must give respect to the customer’s perception or feelings. Perceptions can not be changed by rational arguments. Our first reaction should be to show empathy with the customer and his feelings. If our actions could convince the customer that we fully understand and share his perception, half the battle is won. In this case, if I started an argument with the King and tried to prove to him that the nose was perfectly shaped, perhaps I could convince him, but I would have lost my goodwill with him. By agreeing with him, I showed respect to his feelings.” 

The Master Sculptor then gave a hearty laugh and told his assistant, “Do you know what I did? I went on the ladder with my chisel, hammer, and few broken marble chips in my hand. While on top of the ladder, I acted as if I was working on the nose but, in fact, I did not even touch the statue with my chisel. I just kept throwing some broken marble chips down to convince the King that I was working on the nose.”

After narrating this story, I had a long discussion with the Customer Service department on how to address customer complaints with minimum arguments or bad feelings. Showing respect to the customer complaint is always the first step towards building a relationship of Trust. Later we could sit with the customer, analyse various specifications, observe how the Product is used on customer’s shop floor and then come to some joint conclusion.

One more request from me to this group was, “try to understand who your ultimate customer is. While the Purchase Department of the customer company is your first point of contact, your ultimate customer is the person on the shop floor who uses your product. By talking to shop floor persons, you could get many pointers on how you can increase “value” of your product to the customer.

Late Mr Moolgaokar, who is known as the architect of Tata Motor’s success story, would often travel on highways, visit some roadside eateries (Dhaba) where truck drivers would be having their lunch, mingle with them over lunch and get their feedback about Tata trucks. That is how he built a highly successful company.

In the end, here is some humour. I often asked marketing executives whether “CUSTOMER” was an English word or a Hindi word. Obviously, everyone replied that it was an English word. I would then tell them that in my opinion, it was both an English as well as a Hindi word. Till a deal is finalized and money exchanged, Customer is an English word as the customer is treated as King. Once the transaction is over, he becomes a Hindi “Kasht-mar” or customer (In Hindi, the word Kasht, which is phonetically like Cust, means pain. And the word Mar, which is phonetically like Mer, means Die). So, if Customer were to be a Hindi word, it would mean Die with Pain. And that is how a customer is treated after he has paid for the goods.

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