So Good that People Remark on It

One of my very favorite articles about customer service is “Seven Steps to Remarkable Customer Service” from Joel Spolsky.  I love everything about it, starting with the title, deliberately chosen because it is about “customer service so good people remark on it.”

Spolsky is the co-founder of a software company—and anyone who knows me knows I have nothing in common with software developers!  Except, I guess Joel Spolsky, who has amazing insight into running a successful company, and delivering excellent customer service.   Read the post, and you will be impressed by his philosophy, and also on how easily the steps can be applied to libraries, and any other field.   You really must read all about the 7 Steps yourself!  But as a little preview, I list them below, and then expand upon a couple of them:

  1. Fix everything two ways.
  2. Suggest blowing out the dust.
  3. Make customers into fans.
  4. Take the blame.
  5. Memorize awkward phrases.
  6. Practice puppetry.
  7. Greed will get you nowhere. 

Here are some of my favorites of the seven:

“Suggest blowing out the dust.”  My version of this is “Rephrase the question.”  This step is referring to people who call customer support to say their keyboard isn’t working.  Often, this will be because the keyboard is unplugged.  If you ask them if it’s unplugged, they’ll say indignantly, “Of course it is!  Do you think I’m an idiot?”  But what if you say, “Sometimes the connection gets a little dusty.  Can you do me a favor, unplug the keyboard, blow into the connector, and then plug it back in?”  In the course of doing so, they’ll discover it’s unplugged and come back and say something like “Uh, yeah, that fixed it.”  By rephrasing the question, you did fix their problem, plus you also allowed them to save face.

“Make customers into fans.”  Spolsky tells of an experience with Lands’ End (yup, good old Lands’ End, based right here in Wisconsin).  He ordered shirts with their logo, and when the shirts arrived it turned out that the logo was too dark to read.  Lands’ End took them back, redid the shirts with a different color logo, and Fedexed the shirts the next day, all at no charge.  Let me repeat that:  No Charge!  Yes, they lost money on that transaction, but they have probably gotten many orders they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, because now Joel Spolsky orders all of his logo gear from them, and tells everyone he knows to use them too.  “When customers have a problem and you fix it, they’re actually going to be even more satisfied than if they never had a problem in the first place.”  (Isn’t that amazing?  And isn’t that easy to do in libraries?  And don’t we want our customers to be “fanatically devoted customers, who will prattle on and on about what a great job we do?”)

“Practice puppetry.”   When an irate customer is complaining, or venting, you can never really win these arguments, and if you think you have “won,” what have you really won?  You’ve probably made them so angry they’ll never darken the library’s door again, and they’ll tell everybody they know not too as well (kind of the opposite of making them into a fan; see previous paragraph.)  Instead, try to remember they’re not really angry at you, they’re angry at the library, or the policy, or the situation.  Pretend you’re a puppeteer and they’re angry at your puppet.  What can you make your puppet say that will make them a happy camper?  “I’m sorry” is a good place to start.

Photo © 2008 Gary Knight, Flickr.
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