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Right and Wrong Often Irrelevant
in Handling Customer Service Problems

By Craig Harrison

By now we know that the customer isn’t always right, but the customer IS always the customer. As servers, ultimately we must choose between being right and doing right. Often the customer is wrong but we can make it right if we’re willing to suspend judgment for the greater good of customer satisfaction.


This month I suggest “understanding” as the tack to take when dealing with customer problems. Often a true assessment of customer problems places the blame directly at their feet, not ours. Yet to do so risks losing their continued patronage. Understanding is the key. When we consider their plight we can feel more compassion for them and can find a way to please them and thus keep them as customers.


Japanese director Akira Kurosawa created a masterpiece, Rashomon, in which an incident is recounted from four different perspectives by four different people in flashbacks. The same incident takes on different meanings when recounted by each person. Objective truth takes a back seat to each person’s interpretation of what happened. Their portrayal of the same event is shaded to help themselves appear more sympathetic.


What happens if we apply this same approach to customer service and communication problems? We see the problem through our lens of service provider, vendor or business person. We sometimes see cranky complaining customers who may never be happy. It can be depressing.


They key to understanding comes in our ability to see the problem as they see, feel and experience it. Their meal was cold, their wine was warm, their requests weren’t honored or their experience was less than stellar.


We can trace blame and determine fault, which may or may not reside with us. But this misses the point. For whatever reason, our customers were unhappy. By trying to see it from their standpoint we can at least understand how they feel. We can empathize. We can feel their pain, disappointment or frustration. Now if we can let them know we understand they’ll feel that much better.


Objective truth is less important than the subjective experiences of our customers. When we can understand their experience we can more sympathetically resolve the situations so as to keep our customers happy and loyal.



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