Have you ever walked away from an interaction with someone and thought to yourself, "Well, that sucked"? If you said no, you're either lying or you're a modern-day stoic after reading The Daily Stoic and Meditations. Either way, it happens to me all the time.
I recently visited an Apple Store to check out some Apple Watches - I've really battled the idea of having one for several years, the two main reasons being:
- The fitness tracking is mediocre, and I'm already very active anyway. I don't really need it.
- I already have a phone in my pocket 24/7; do I really want to permanently attach myself to the watch and become an Apple robot? I know it sounds like some hippie stuff, but Phantom Vibration Syndrome is real!
Anyway, I overcame my hesitations and finally decided to pull the trigger. I walked right to the watch table with the intention of buying one. As an indecisive buyer, I tend to always ask some questions with the intention of giving the sales rep an opportunity to sell me on the spot, you know, the good old "convince me to buy it."
Again, I really hope this doesn't just happen to me, but I was pretty disappointed in his answers. I used to work at the Apple Store myself but haven't kept up with the watches and didn't know the granular details of what was new. I was hoping he could share some insights that would spark some more interest from me. Instead, he gave me the most basic answers like, "A lot of people use the Apple Watch to track their fitness" or "I can answer text messages directly from my wrist!"
Well, no shit, John!
After that interaction, I couldn't stop thinking to myself, "Why did his answers bother me so much?" Which leads me to the purpose of this blog post: there are key customer service fundamentals that John could have incorporated into his interaction with me. In my eyes, perfect customer service does exist, and I don't think it's that hard.
Before I gave John the opportunity to answer my questions, I made sure to give him additional context about myself:
- I used to work at Apple, so I have a great understanding of the basic functionalities of the Apple Watch.
- I work out often and know about the basic fitness tracking.
- I'm hesitant to buy because of my reasons mentioned above.
With that kind of information, he could have asked so many follow-up questions, made jokes about how much of a hippie I am, or literally just told me some cool facts about the newer watches that I probably wouldn't know. Instead, he gave me the most generic response, leading me to think he didn't really even listen to me and doesn't know much more about the Apple Watch than I do.
What was it that made John miss on this interaction? Well, my theory is that there are three pillars to perfect customer service that he could have leaned into:
- Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
One of the best decisions I've ever made was working part-time retail jobs during university. I'd probably attribute most of my social skills to my time working those different jobs. I was definitely an outgoing guy, but having hundreds of quick interactions with completely different people teaches you a lot about what they do and don't resonate with.
I worked at LCBO for a few months when I was 19-20 and didn't know a single thing about alcohol. I would constantly have people asking me questions like, "Which red wine would go best with a salmon & salad meal for my wife and I?"
It literally took me two years to get used to the taste of beer; there was absolutely no chance that I had any knowledge or experience with wine, let alone which red one was best with salmon 🤦🏽♂️.
As I tried to answer their questions and muttered sad responses of wine suggestions, I would very quickly see their expressions of disappointment surface. It wasn't until a couple of jobs later, when I was working at Apple, that I realized that when I did these 3 things it always lead to the best interactions with customers 👇🏽
A simple way to think about the knowledge pillar is: you should, most of the time, know more than the customer and be very confident about your products & services. Customers come to you for your knowledge, your consultation, and your experience with the products & services you provide. The moment that they start to realize they know more than you and that you're hiding it, you will lose their trust. If you don't know an answer to something, don't fake it, transparency is key.
"Transparency and giving reason strides legitimacy. Non-transparency and not giving reasons detracts from legitimacy" - Noah Feldman
Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict (helpguide.org). In a customer service setting, the empathy part is the most important. It's basically how you acknowledge and understand the emotions of the customer and yourself within an interaction to manage the outcome positively.
If a customer comes in frustrated, being a robot in your responses by reciting the customer service policy will never work out optimally. Because of these high emotion situations, EQ is probably the most difficult pillar to master, but when done well, it comes with an amazing outcome: the customer feeling like you're on their side.
If you read any self-help books, this one will be obvious to you. Basically, the best way to learn about someone & their needs is to be genuinely curious. Here are some quotes that represent this idea well:
"Everyone is interesting. If you're ever bored in a conversation, the problem's with you, not the other person." - Matt Mullenweg in Tools of Titans
"Listening requires, more than anything, curiosity." "Thinking you already know how a conversation will go down kills curiosity and subverts listening … " " … they must ask questions out of curiosity as opposed to questioning to prove a point, set a trap, change someone's mind …" All from You're Not Listening, by Kate Murphy
The most fulfilling interactions I've ever had with customers have always been the ones that I have been so deeply curious about who they are and what they are looking for.
Oh, and you can’t fake curiosity either.
Why do these pillars work?
They work to build trust with the customer. That's it. Trust.
Next time you're going to buy a new pair of pants, getting a haircut, or choosing between dozens of configuration options for your next laptop, think about how well the customer service representative hits on these key pillars. I'm sure it will change the way you experience these interactions and how you carry yourself on the other side of them.
Now go out and build trust, people.
Thank you for making it this far! I’ll be testing less structured posts like this occasionally. Please give me feedback. Writing is hard.