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Customer Service Mindlessness and How to Prevent It

David Lee

This weekend I stopped into the one-hour eyeglasses place for the third time and finally got what I had paid for. The first time I returned was because my left lens seemed "off". The technician checked them out and said that they were .25 diopters off, which was within the acceptable range, but since I was having trouble with them, they would gladly fix.

When I picked up my glasses with the new lens, there was no mention about me having to come back a second time to have it made right.

After bringing my new and improved glasses home, I discovered that the lenses weren’t rolled and polished, something I had paid extra for.

I brought them back and explained to the woman the situation in a neutral tone of voice. While I was frustrated at having to return yet again, it wasn’t her fault and there was no need to take it out on her. I don’t know whether it was my not overtly displaying displeasure or her having slipped into a mindless, transactional mode, but she didn’t show any concern or embarrassment about my having to make another trip to their store to get what I had paid for originally.

When I picked up my glass…again…this weekend, the young woman asked me about the nature of my order as she shuffled through trays of glasses, searching for my order. I explained, again with a neutral tone of voice, that I had paid for rolling and polishing and it had not been done, and that this was the third time I had been back.

No acknowledgement of the inconvenience. No apology.

As I drove home, I found myself reflecting on a related incident I witnessed at the dentist the previous week.

As I waited to pay for my check-up, an obviously annoyed—but trying to be polite—man got up from his seat in the waiting room and approached the receptionist. He asked her if he had made a mistake or was he correct that his appointment was for 10:20. I looked at my watch and saw 10:47. The receptionist, unfazed, replied that yes, he was correct and the hygienist was preparing the room.

No acknowledgement of his having to wait. No apology.

Now, as someone who consults in and writes about customer service, I’m always paying attention to the customer service I receive or witness. I had been struck by how friendly and engaging this receptionist was with me. In fact, I was thinking about how lucky the dentist was to have such a warm, friendly person working for him.

However, even warm, friendly people can become so used to their side of the customer interaction, that they forget what it’s like from the customer’s perspective. Because they deal with a never-ending stream of customer problems they become inured to their customer’s distress. Because it’s just one of many customer problems or inconveniences they’ve dealt with that day, it doesn’t feel like a big deal to them.

They have become mindless to the fact it is a big deal to the customer. They are not one of many. They are THE one who is experiencing the long wait or the consequences of the business’s mistake.

When employees involved in customer service lose touch with the customer’s experience, they don’t think to acknowledge the customer’s frustration, inconvenience, and feelings.

As we all can relate to as customers, when we get treated with that level of indifference, we want to take our business elsewhere. In fact, as many in the customer service field know, research by TARP revealed that 68% of customers reported that customer service rep indifference was the number one reason why customers defected to a competitor.

Your customer service employees service demonstrating mindfulness and acknowledging your customer’s negative experiences is part of the mindfulness equation, though.

Just as important, if not more so, is to teach your customer service staff to practice higher order mindfulness by doing things that prevent loyalty-damaging mistakes in the first place.

Then, if you want to move your customer service into the ranks of the elite, model Ritz Carlton and teach your customer service staff to look for unexpressed customer needs. These are things a customer might not ask for, but which an alert, mindful service professional would recognize as something that would delight that particular customer.

Actions You Can Take to Benefit From This Article

  1. Engage your team in exploring their own experiences as customers, clients, and patients. Help them identify what the service professional did that left them with a positive or negative experience.
  2. Engage your team in exploring how they feel when their frustration, inconvenience, or other negative experience goes unacknowledged and receives no apology. Link their experiences with your customers, clients, or patients’ experience of your business.
  3. Teach your team the importance of mindfulness and how dangerous "customer service auto-pilot" is to customer satisfaction and your brand.
  4. Ask your team to identify key Moments of Truth where customers might be feeling frustrated or wanting an apology, and where they might not be doing so.
  5. Involve your team in looking for opportunities to upgrade your processes and systems so you have less reason to apologize.

David Lee, the founder of HumanNature@Work, works with employers who want to improve employee engagement, customer service, and morale. He has worked with organizations and presented at conferences both domestically and abroad.