When Good Customer Service Rules Go Bad
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Tony did exactly as he was trained. He sent a hand-written thank you note to
his customer. However, when his customer received it she was furious and tore it
up into little pieces before throwing it out.
How could something as well intentioned as a thank you note (hand written, at
that) create such a negative reaction? As it turns out, this customer was still
in the process of getting a serious issue resolved with Tony and his company.
The thank you note arrived before this issue was dealt with, he never mentioned
it, and he never apologized for the problem. Even though the thank you note was
handwritten, it was as impersonal as a mass produced letter that starts with
If you only train your employees to routinely do things without understanding
the subtleties and context of their actions, you run the risk that they’ll do
the right things but in the wrong way.
Here are some of the most common customer service rules, when to break them
and alternative best practices to apply instead.
Rule One: Always Use the Customer’s name
Dale Carnegie said “The sweetest sound in any language is the sound of one’s
own name.” Though it may be true that using a customer’s name can create a sense
of intimacy, it can also have the opposite effect. Watch out for the following
1. Using the customer’s name too often.
“Well, Bob, you can see that this is the perfect solution for your business,
don’t you agree Bob? After all Bob, studies have shown this to be true. And
Bob….” Overusing your customer’s name may make them uncomfortable, seeming like
an insincere gimmick rather than a true connection.
2. Mispronouncing your customer’s name.
Some people have names that are hard to pronounce or have an unusual
pronunciation. In either case it is always good to ask the proper way to
pronounce their name. Once you’ve heard the proper pronunciation, it’s essential
that you pronounce it correctly. Customer’s may forgive you for not saying it
right, but it will still grate on your customer’s nerves to hear his or her name
said wrong repeatedly.
3. Being too formal or too informal when using your customer’s name.
Some people prefer to use their first name; some prefer an honorific such as
Mr., Miss, Ms, Mrs., Ma’am, Sir, etc. It is far more respectful to start off by
being formal letting your customer tell you their preference.
Best Practice: Use your customers name in a way that shows respect and begins
to build rapport.
Rule Two: Always Shake Your Customers Hand
For decades salespeople have been taught to shake hands in order to connect
and build trust and rapport with their customers. However, there are a number of
situations where offering a handshake can create more tension than trust.
1. Cultural Issues.
There are many cultures and religions in which handshaking is either
forbidden or considered rude. If you are dealing with a multi-cultural customer
base, learn all you can about the appropriate ways to greet and welcome them.
2. Social Anxiety.
For some people, the mere thought of having to shake hands creates a level of
tension that can ruin the entire interaction.
3. People with compromises immune systems.
In 1918 the town of Prescott, Arizona outlawed handshaking to attempt to slow
down the spread of the flu epidemic. Many people have been told by their doctors
that they should not shake hands in order to protect their fragile immune
systems. There are also perfectly healthy people who are afraid of the germs
that can be transmitted by a handshake.
Best Practice: Instead of initiating the handshake it is better to wait until
your customer makes the first move. Keep your arms relaxed but ready to respond.
If they start to shake your hand, you can easily reach out and grasp their hand
Rule Three: Always Send a Handwritten Thank You Note
In this impersonal business world a handwritten note will help you stand out
and make a great impression, but sometimes a note can have the opposite effect.
1. Sending a thank you note before a problem is successfully resolved
As in the opening story, don’t send a thank you note if your customer has an
unresolved problem. Don’t send a note unless it’s an apology, not a thank you.
2. Impersonal note
A perfunctory “thank you for doing business with us” can fall flat like a
form letter, ruining whatever connection you may have with your customer.
Best Practice: Although a handwritten note is still somewhat personal in its
nature, you need to take it a step further by writing something unique that
relates to each customer. Your note should include references to what you have
spoken about with the customer (i.e. Their kid’s baseball game; the health of a
loved one, etc.)
Rule Four: Follow the Golden Rule
From the time we are children we have been taught to follow the golden rule.
“Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” Following this rule can
create a number of problems:
1. Treating your customer in a way that makes them uncomfortable.
It is somewhat egocentric to assume that your customer always has the same
wants and desires that you do. For example, if you are a gregarious person who
likes lots of conversation and connection, you risk pushing your customer away
if that kind of treatment makes them uneasy.
2. Missing an opportunity to surprise and delight.
When you only use yourself as a reference about what would impress your
customer you lose the ability to be nimble and creative. When you listen
carefully to your customer he or she will give you clues about what you can do
to go the extra mile.
Best Practice: Use the Platinum Rule; “Treat others the way they want to be
treated.” This ensures that your customer will be treated in a way that meets
his or her needs.
The bottom line to all these rule breakers and best practices is to keep your
customer service personal. Don’t just follow the rules, choose the best way to
apply them to meet and exceed your customer’s needs.
About the Author
Laurie Brown is an international speaker, trainer and consultant who works to
help people improve their sales, service and presentation skills. She is the
author of The Teleprompter Manual, for Executives, Politicians, Broadcasters and
Speakers. Laurie can be contacted through
http://www.thedifference.net, or 1-877.999.3433, or at
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