by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
I've read quite a bit of advice that says your customer service will be improved by training your employees how to say things the right way. And within a compartmentalized set of thinking, it's true that the right words convey care, concern, competence or whatever message you are trying to present to the customer.
However, no matter how well you say what you want the customer to believe, the customer is going to believe what you do. If your words are window dressing, obfuscation or outright lies, the customer will catch on. If you are politely saying "no," the customer still hears "no." If you are making excuses, the customer still hears it as excuses, no matter how fancily you dress it up. If you haven't been keeping your promises, the customer won't believe any more promises.
In one of the areas I lived in a few years ago, I had a utility service that constantly failed. The service was so bad that the local government regulatory board fined the company for its poor performance. The company used old, weather-damaged, failing equipment that it should have replaced many years prior. Whenever it caused service interruptions and customers complained, the customers were treated to long waits "on hold" on the phone, long dialogs with the "tech support" people to "troubleshoot" what must surely be the customer's self-caused problem, failure to solve the problem through phone instructions, all followed by a several day wait for the inevitable service call. The first service call was almost always merely diagnostic, resulting in a "work order" for another service call days later to bring in the right personnel, tools and equipment. It quickly became apparent that there were overwhelming problems on the system and that "customer service" was merely a set of stalling techniques to give the company time to "put out another fire."
Instead of actually solving the problems -- which were unsolvable in the short term -- the company invested in employee training and telephone "scripting" to provide the illusion of good customer service. It became quite a joke in the neighborhood that when we called to report yet another outage, the customer service employee answered the phone with, "Hi. My name is x. I can help you!" Many of us just started laughing at that point. When we didn't simply want to jump through the phone and strangle the employee.
What is really sad is that the company has never caught on to the fact that not only do their customers not believe that they will receive competent help, but the script they force on their employees very much annoys the customers. Fortunately for the customers, there are some alternative to dealing with that company. We chose one of them and got out of the closed loop of failure/stall/failure/fix inadequately/failure...
Lousy service, incompetence, stalls, insincerity, misleading advertising and so forth can't be scripted away. No amount of employee training in how to say it well, empathetically or convincingly will long cover the real customer experience.
Your actions do speak louder than your words. They scream over them. Do what you are supposed to do.
C.S. Clarke, Ph.D. is a psychologist and performance coach who originated the Superperformance® concept in human performance improvement and publishes the sites Superformance.com® (Human Performance and Achievement Resources) and EverydayDelight.com.™ Superperformance is a trademark.