Customer Service

Plusses, perils of immediate customer service gratification

By Tammie MacLachlan and Mark Lusky | January 23, 2013

Instant gratification has become the paramount rule of engagement in many customer service interactions. Increasingly, the pressure is on customer service representatives across corporate America to effect rapid resolutions. Faced with mandates from the corporate office to dispatch customer service calls ASAP, and the omnipresent threat of a negative tweet or other social media review, the prevailing protocol in some companies is to make the customer right, no matter what. This, in turn, leads to massive pressure on operations to make good on sometimes unreasonable commitments. This type of instant gratification clearly favors the customer.

Then, there’s the opposite end of the continuum: Customer service policies that dictate saying “no” to the customer at every possible opportunity. We’ve all experienced this with companies that feel they have customers by the short hairs and that even disgruntled ones will still have to tow the line – reputation management be damned. This type of instant gratification clearly favors the company (at least for awhile). So, where does it make sense to provide versus prevent instant gratification? What common-sense policies benefit both the customer and the company departments responsible for meeting customer needs?

Here are some guidelines for reaching a happy medium:

Separate attitude from aptitude on instant gratification. In many cases, the attitude of a customer service rep speaks as loudly, or even more so, than the ability to immediately resolve an issue. If a customer service rep can maintain a friendly, proactive demeanor – in essence assuring the customer that everything reasonably possible will be done to meet a request – the customer is much more likely to remain engaged and reasonable. Establish that everyone is on the same side, and calmly discuss what can and cannot be done.

Commit only to what’s “feasible and fair.” Many customer service reps, eager to please, promise the moon without ability to deliver consistently. Some, in a desire to lower expectations, under-promise so that they can over-deliver and look heroic.

Over-promising leads to unmet commitments, inferior work done in haste, confusion, disgruntled customers and frustrated employees. Under-promising then over-delivering also can create confusion and set unrealistic expectations in a customer’s mind for the future. They become accustomed to more than what has been offered. Then, when you do what you say you will (but not more), the customer becomes resentful because of previous experiences.

Here’s the sweetspot: Be as authentic and transparent as possible when matching up promises with performance. It sets honest parameters around the process, and will help ensure that the customers you keep are those you want.

As an analogy, think about this in the context of a personal relationship. One partner always gives, gives, gives (over-delivers) to please and prove worthy to the other. Ultimately, the receiving partner becomes accustomed to this level of caring – spoiled, if you will. Then, the giver runs out of energy and has to slow down. The spoiled recipient is disappointed, an “unhappy customer.”

Conversely, the over-promiser makes commitments that sound good in theory, but lack in performance. The disappointed recipient also is an “unhappy customer.”

Promote advanced planning. A substantial amount of instant gratification can be rendered unnecessary with customers who can plan ahead. Help them do this, and explain how charting out a course now will prevent later, needless emergency situations. Start the process by reviewing the customer history to identify spots that need some attention in this area. This historical snapshot will provide a logical basis for contacting the customer and suggesting a review.

In addition to everyone getting on the same page about scope of work and deadlines, organizing the coming year’s efforts leaves bandwidth for unexpected, emergent issues. When every order is a rush, crisis, do-or-die affair, there’s the propensity for resentment and a “crying wolf” perspective within the company. Ultimately, customer service reps take the customer less seriously, and become less motivated to continue meeting demands perceived as being over-the-top. In contrast, when a well-ordered plan is punctuated by real, occasional emergencies, customer service people will be much more inclined to break their butts to help out.

When dealing with a new customer, do everything possible to “train” the customer from the start. As part of the customer education process about policies and protocols, conducting a new customer interview to ascertain customer workflow processes, special or unique needs, seasonal considerations, communication styles and the like can provide invaluable insights about how to work most efficiently and effectively together.

While instant gratification can be important to maintain and build customer relationships in certain circumstances, excessive expectations around it can prove counterproductive. Finding the right balance is key to a mutually beneficial outcome. 

Tammie MacLachlan is the customer service manager of Lightning Labels, a Denver-based all-digital custom label printer providing full-color labels and stickers of all shapes and sizes, and custom packaging products.  She has been in the printing industry for 19 years and with Lightning Labels for over seven years. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label and printing news.  Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels since 2008.