When it comes to great customer service, empathy is the best tool in its delivery.

Last week I was speaking at the annual conference of the Service Desk Institute. It was a fantastic event, with a real sense of the passion and pride of people providing help desk technical support. I was particularly struck by the explanation from courier company TNT on how they make sure their support people understand the (internal) customer:

A couple of times a year we send them on the road with the drivers, with the same 6am start. They spend the whole day helping deliver packages. There is no substitute for such direct experience of what life is like for their customer. Now they know what it is so important, for example, if the computer-generated roster is delivered late.

Get your staff close to their customer, not to their manager

One of my beliefs in creating happy workplaces is that “great management is about getting out of the way”. People often ask how to make sure employees understand the level of service that is needed, or what to do if staff are not meeting customer needs. The answer is here, get them to connect directly with the customer and spend time with them. A day on the road with the drivers at TNT is better than two dozen meetings where the manager “explains” what the customer needs.

We try to do the same at Happy. When we got a contract to deliver CRM training to salespeople at pharmaceutical company Pfizer, our first step was not to learn the system but to spend time with those salespeople. Like the TNT staff, our trainers spent a day on the road with reps as they visited doctors and hospitals. This meant they understood the jobs, the perspective and even the language of the people to be trained, far better than they could from any specification.

This approach is common at companies that really focus on meeting customer needs. I remember Woburn Safari Park explaining how they would (with permission) follow families round the park to see exactly how they experienced it. I forget which personal accounts software told the story, but I shall never forget their example of approaching customers buying the product and asking if they could come home with them to watch as they installed and used the product.

Do you get your people to walk in the shoes of their customers like this? What could you do to have your people better experience what it is like to use your product or service, and actually live the life of your customer — even if only for a day?

For those interested in refocusing their customer service efforts, read more about our ‘Creating Customer Delight’ course.

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