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Chasing Customers Is Like Herding Cats.
Why Attraction is the Heart of Customer Service.

by Edie Raether, CSP

So much of customer service emphasizes the needs, values, and perception of the customer. Obviously, getting feedback from our clients and customers is essential, but I'd like to introduce another perspective, not to replace but to embellish upon the more traditional notions of how to provide outstanding customer service. In my book, Why Cats Don't Bark, I discuss the heart of peak performance through change from the "insight" out. The answers do lie within, yet learning to access that inner knowing, wise-mind, or intuitive intelligence seems to remain a mystery for most people. The same principles of emotional and intuitive intelligence that increase peak performance are also effective in improving customer service. In addition to understanding the customer's needs, wants, and perceptions, you must also become clearer on your "internal stuff." Once you are crystal clear on your personal and professional or business mission, you will attract customers who share the same core values, creating a personal alignment, synergy and other positive elements of a relationship. You will develop a synchronicity that motivates and invites rather than chases and captures.

Whether we are discussing stress or time management, sales, marketing, or customer service, we are all given only so much time, energy and money, which is often a reflection of how our time and energy have been spent. Rather than frantically chasing after every waving flag disguised as opportunity, I am suggesting a more centered and focused approach that creates natural synergy and alignment. The latter obviously produces greater results and success with less effort and time. It's the old 80/20 rule in action. If 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers, how are you productively investing that other 80 percent of your time? We all know that if you hire the right people for the right job, their performance will be outstanding and they will be your most loyal employees. The same is true with customer service. If your service or style of service is not what the consumer wants, you will never be good enough. You can't drive a square peg into a round hole! As you become clearer on who you are, what your mission is, and whom you best serve, customer service becomes a natural by-product. This strategic alignment is the foundation of all business success. It's based on the laws of attraction: people love to buy but hate to be sold. In the field of marketing, the books on positioning by Jack Trout and Al Ries and research on branding illustrate the power of clarity of image as opposed to marketing mania.

By dissolving differences and focusing on a common ground, a deeper connection evolves through a sense of cooperation and collaboration. When you stay "in tune" to your customer's expectations, you stay in alignment. People's needs may remain quite consistent; their expectations vary with perception. For example, a customer's expectations of service and amenities are not the same of a Motel 6 as they may be for a Marriott. Nor do customers expect a discount store to provide the same level of service as Nordstrom's. From Southwest Airlines we expect lower prices and understand that, in exchange, we forfeit a few amenities, such as reserved seating and meals. It's all about alignment. You may have a great product and superb service, but if it is not consistent with who you are or what you promise, and thus what your customers expect, they will move on. Reality isn't real, expectations are. Make no casual commitments.

There must also be congruency between what is efficient and what is effective. Traveling efficiently at 70 miles per hour but in the wrong direction is not effective. Another example of good intention and process but unfulfilling results is climbing the ladder of success only to realize that the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall. What is your direction, mission and vision, and who are your ideal customers? What are you doing to focus and attract that perfect customer who shares your core values and competencies? You can't hurry love nor can you force "chemistry" or romance. Some things just click and some things seem to naturally repel. Your job is to use good judgment and wisdom in determining with whom you connect best and synergize. What is your market and whom might you best serve?

Customer expectations are both vertical and horizontal. A lateral expectation is not about the level or degree of service, but the type. It is about "what" service is rendered. For example, if a customer is more concerned about saving time, not money, and you are taking more time in order to save that person money, you may be projecting your values into the situation and not hearing what is requested. Vertical expectations are focused on "how" the service is performed and the process or degree of excellence. Once you are clear on the customer's intention, then your attention to detail makes the process complete and successful.

It's all about detail. When comparing the quality of one suit to another, the details are like a subtle magnet drawing us into a purchase. Although God is in the details, so is the devil. Your level of perceived excellence and service will be determined by your attention to detail, which is always a reflection of your intentions. In gift giving, we often excuse inexpensive gifts with the assurance; it's the thought that counts. Our thoughts are our intentions and desires, which ultimately transform potential into performance. Even in the severity of murder, we assess charges of first, second, or third degree murder by what the jury determines as the intention, such as whether or not the act was premeditated. Not only in customer service, but also in every element of what we offer, our state of mind, thoughts, intentions, and heart speak all determine the quality of results and outcomes. For example, when the forever best seller, Chicken Soup for the Soul, was being written, no one with a negative mindset was allowed to contribute or work on what manifested as perhaps the best-selling series of books of all times. What might this same approach and philosophy do for you?

To know if you are really "in sync" with your customers, as in dating and your personal relationships, you need to have a courting time. You don't buy a car without a test drive nor do you buy a suit or dress without trying it on. In a similar way we need to court, test-drive, and try on our customers for a proper fit. Likewise, they need to try us out before making a commitment. Our perspective of our potential customers and their view of us is different looking at us from the outside. We get a different sense of how things feel when we try it on and get a perspective from the inside out, which is why we call it "insight." The inner vision provides a greater understanding and feel for fit. That doesn't mean there will be no need for future alterations to change with the times, but it does provide a solid start. Just as your employees do a better job when they love their work because it is a good fit, so also the right fit with your customers will provide a basis for success.

True customer service is about making one decision at a time both in whom we attract as customers, whom we keep as customers, and how we realign ourselves when we get out of sync with them. If you religiously follow the policy and procedures manual and worship rigidity, your robotic style of customer service will lack human touch and intelligence. A situation that illustrates the cost of such inflexibility occurred when a large group of us had a close connection at the airport in St. Louis. Although time was of the essence, we all politely sat on a shuttle, waiting several minutes for it to depart to the other wing of the airport where our flight would be leaving in just minutes. Like well- conditioned mice, we all respectfully and passively waited for the shuttle operator to turn the key. Finally, I got up and confronted the driver with the seriousness of the situation, pointing out that, if she did not leave immediately, the airlines would lose thousands of dollars housing all of us for the night due to the fact that we were about to miss our connecting flight. The response I received indicated the shuttle left every fifteen minutes as if it were on an automatic timer, and there was no choice or hope for human intervention and intelligence. There seemed to be little concern that we would all miss our flights even though it was 11:00 p.m., and there would be no more connecting flights requiring the shuttle service. Having little patience for such a display of cerebral breakdown, I became quite proactive in the pursuit of the lost art of common sense, convincing her that logic should supercede the rules. She finally decided to deliver us to our destination. Only the physically fit were able to make their connecting flights. Unfortunately, the driver was caught up in the fear of losing her job should she bend the rules. There can be no logic to your service unless you empower your employees to, above all, use their heads! Actually, it was not just the shuttle driver who was programmed to passivity, but all of the passengers who felt so totally helpless - they simply resigned themselves to a phantom impossibility. The point is that most outrageously positive customer service is simply making good judgments and decisions that may require more than mechanical analysis.

Objectivity makes good sense in math but is deficient in the service industry. It is essential that our decisions and responses to each and every situation be a balance of input from both the head and heart. We need to pay attention to the sensory feedback our body gives us, which is often a gut feeling, also known as intuition, direct knowing, or unconventional wisdom. All hybrid decision-making requires a development of our intuitive sense of what is right and wrong. Much more sophisticated than a computer, the mind weighs the emotional pros and cons from our emotional memory of past experiences and provides feedback via a hunch or gut feeling.

John Seely Brown, director of Xerox Corporation's Silicon Valley R&D facility, made it clear that rather than a high IQ or GPA, he looks for people who have grounded intuitions and a passion for making an impact. Thus it's essential not just to attract our perfect customer with whom we can create a natural synergy and alignment, but also to choose the appropriate people as employees. Hire for attitude and teach the skills. To provide service that is in sync and in alignment with your customers, you must first hire employees who have personal alignment and self-awareness. You and your employees must be aware and conscious of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions and how they affect others. Our actions determine the response we get, and, in attempting to realign ourselves with an angered, dissatisfied customer, it is important to remember that what we give out is what we get back. Emotional management is crucial to maintaining a symbiotic relationship that is mutually satisfying and beneficial.

Where attention goes, energy flows. Your thoughts are the seeds of the realities you create. We previously discussed the importance of knowing the customer's expectations as their reality. It is essential to know and understand your own expectations, which must be purely positive for positive outcomes. An obstacle is something you see only when you take your eyes off the goal. "As you sow, so shall you reap." Studies with sales people have demonstrated as much as a 37 percent increase in sales when they were conditioned to expect "yes." Expect that every crisis is an opportunity in disguise. Always seek what you can learn from every experience. There is a Zen saying, "All experience is education for the soul." No one is your enemy, everyone is your teacher. Expect all breakdowns to be breakthroughs. Expect a miracle!

Self-awareness is a prerequisite for empathy and compassion, which Daniel Goldman refers to as our social radar. He states the key to knowing others' emotional terrain is an intimate familiarity with our own. Empathy is not only reading another's emotions, but also being able to sense and respond to unspoken concerns and feelings. Lacking such sensitivity makes us emotionally tone deaf. Anybody who thinks customers aren't important should try doing without them for ninety days! While computers may offer economic efficiency, they have no soul. They do not feel and have no emotion and thus cannot motivate or be motivated. With the primary needs of many customers being interaction, participation, inclusion, and affiliation, customer care will always require just that . . . care. Computers compute, but only people have the capacity to care.

Since even good marriages will have a "falling out" from time to time, so, too, we may fall out of alignment with our usually in-sync customers. Here are a few tips for getting back in sync, creating an even stronger bond, connection, and loyalty.
  • Listen. Listen. Listen. Your silence speaks.
  • Be attentive. Affirm and validate them. Offer empathy and understanding. See their concerns through their eyes, hear with their ears, and feel with their heart. It's difficult to sustain anger when you are both in agreement.
  • Resist the temptation to defend your point of view. They will not hear a word you say until you have first given them your ear and your understanding. In fact, an early defense will only escalate emotions and increase the intensity of their anger. You want to open doors, not build walls.
  • Become "one" with them. Use "we" language to regain a sense of alignment and reduce polarity and opposition. Stand side-by-side to suggest a buddy relationship rather than a position of direct opposition. Your body speaks!
  • Ask questions that direct attention to solutions and problem- solving rather than allow customers to wallow in unproductive anger, conflict, and negativity. Again, ask what "we" can do to solve the problem and create a united front. It invites them to participate and thus feel more empowered, transforming blame into a mutual sense of responsibility.
  • Reframe their perceptions. There are two sides or pros and cons to every situation. For example, if someone is angered because the wait has been long, acknowledge those feelings to get in sync and alignment, and only then suggest the positive perspective of the same situation, which may be that it takes time to give customers the attention they need. You may even wish to get their permission before offering your suggestions. It is more difficult to refute that to which we have concurred.
  • When in a hole, rule number one is . . . don't dig! Never lie. People are forgiving. Ask for forgiveness rather than offer phony excuses that may force customers to seek justice by creating bigger traps. The nation forgave Betty Ford for her alcohol dependence and your disgruntled customers will forgive you, if you ask. Lies not only cause people to feel betrayed and deceived but erode all trust, which is the glue in every type relationship.
  • Ask them what they would do if they were you. Role reversal allows them to see with your eyes, hear with your ears, and feel with your heart. It invites them to understand you, empathize with you, and become one with you. What goes around comes around. If you recall, one of the first points I made suggested that you see the world, and specifically their problem, through their eyes.
  • If the answers lie within . . . so do the solutions. However, you must ask the right questions. I would recommend asking your disgruntled customers, "What would you like me to do?" Simple questions often yield profound solutions and resolution.
  • Love your customers and they will love you. We all mirror each other. If you want it, first you must give it.
Having lived in Green Bay, Wisconsin, home of the infamous Green Bay Packers and cheese heads, I have witnessed customer loyalty and enthusiasm at its best. Their zealousness is second only to the excitement of the Badger fans at the University of Wisconsin where, win or lose, the fifth quarter is always a celebration. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is home of another group of fanatically devout fans. If you don't own the "hog," you don't own a motorcycle, according to customers and family of the Harley Davidson clan. Talk about kinship. Every size, sex, and sector of humanity is represented in this loyal group of fanatical fans. They all own, drive, and love their Harleys and religiously celebrate a very special common bond. Now that's turning your customers into raving fans! By the way, there is a shortage of these machines so if you want to join the club, you will have to take a number and wait your turn!

Customer service is thus much more than giving service, it is about being a servant. Service is a transient act, while being a servant is a state of mind and a way of being. It reflects more than core competencies and skills; it integrates core values and the soul of your service. What is your core ideology? What do you stand for? Phrases like "mark my word" and "you have my word" along with a handshake were once honored as if written in stone or sworn on a stack of Bibles. Perhaps we need to get back to the basics such as please, thank you, be polite and other good manners. A personal benefit of please and thank you is that please helps us clarify and focus on what we desire, and thank you maintains an attitude of gratitude, which supports a feeling of abundance and attracts prosperity. We also need to bury blame and resurrect responsibility. Remember, even though a situation may not be your fault, it still may be your responsibility to fix it. Honor also needs to be revived. Try greeting each and everyone you meet with a sense of reverence, regard, and respect and begin to make miracles. All change begins from the inside out. It all begins with you. It's your call. Life is a feast and most poor fools are starving.

Opportunities are everywhere. Chasing customers is like herding cats. Peter Drucker states the purpose of business is not to make a sale, but to make and keep a customer. In other words, when the sale ends, the selling begins. Customer service is selling with integrity and making a commitment to the relationship. When Vince Lombardi said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," he was referring to football, not customer service. Customer care is not about competition, but cooperation and collaboration. The rules in sports are not universal laws. Know your game, the league you're in, what balls you're hitting and where you want them to fall. Be a risk-taker, not a risk-wisher who merely goes with the flow. A risk-taker creates the flow. Unlike a couple of decades ago, bigger is not necessarily better or more beautiful. Stay in your niche to avoid the ditch! Know who you are, what you want, and whom you want to attract as customers to best fit your niche. Believe in yourself and your customers will trust and believe in you. Lombardi also said, "Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence." How we view others is a reflection of our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. All change begins from the "insight" out. Ignite your intuitive intelligence and tune into your wise mind to hear your inner voice of wisdom and direct knowing. The choices are yours. As Kenny Rogers sings in The Gambler, "You've got to know when to hold them, you've got to know when to fold them, you've got to know when to walk away and know when to run. Knowing what to throw away and what to keep. Every hand is a winner."

Honor the winner in you, the winner in your employees or internal customers, and honor those customers who give you life - and your job! A greeting from India, namaste, sums it all up. It means the light, the love; the God in me greets the light, the love, the God in you. Namaste!

©2004 Edie Raether. All Rights Reserved

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