Wrongheaded Customer Service Advice To Reject (And Better Advice To Embrace)

[Originally published in Forbes.com. The author, Micah Solomon, is an author, consultant, influencer, keynote speaker, and trainer in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, and hospitality. (Here are three ways to reach Micah: email, chat, web).

On the subject of customer service, some of the received wisdom out there is flat-out wrong. The stakes here are significant; with the wrong customer service approach you can sabotage your business results in the short run and your company reputation in the long term.

So, let me highlight some of the customer service “truths” floating around out there that need to be rejected wholeheartedly, if you want to avoid damage to your cultural, organizational, and bottom-line results.

1. “Hire from your gut.” This advice can have catastrophic consequences. It’s dangerous both because it doesn’t work and because you may never realize how completely it’s not working, because it’s so easy to fool yourself, looking backward, that it does. This is because selective memory–a component of the psychological principle called the “self-serving bias”–tends to make us remember our triumphs (the times we got lucky following our gut) while forgetting the times that our gut led us astray.

So what’s the right way to hire? You need to get scientificabout selecting (a better term than “hiring”) the right people for your customer-facing team. Here’s an article from me on this important subject.

2. “Script everything.” Scripts can’t solve every customer situation, because customers refuse to follow a script themselves! It’s essential to not only allow but encourageemployees to be flexible in responding to a particular customer’s situation and mood, as well as their unique relationship to your company (among other factors).

3. “Script nothing.” It’s sexy to recommend this soundbite-friendly approach (and I tend to lean more in this direction than the other), but there are two problems here. First, consider all the time you’re wasting when you require employees to repeatedly reinvent what doesn’t need to be reinvented.

The second problem with anti-scripting extremism is that there are specific areas in most organizations (certainly this is true more for some industries than others) where scripting is essential: pharmacy and medical situations, security and safety related situations, government and ethically mandated privacy related situations, and others.

4. “Do more with less.” This can be good advice if it’s intended as (and includes the resources for) an invitation to look for and test innovative ways of accomplishing customer-related tasks, such as process and technological improvement. But outside of that context, here’s the problem: There are many human-delivered aspects of customer service that can’t be whittled down without removing your core value to your customers.

Of course it’s more efficient to use an auto-attendant instead of having a live human operator. But is efficiency the main goal here? And of course it would be cheaper (in terms of resources) if you could answer customer emails in twelve hours instead of four, or let the phones roll over to voicemail now and then. But think of the mischief this can do to your business.

5. Customer service is “just common sense.” Don’t be fooled; although the greatest customer service-oriented organizations combine science and art to create an experience for their customers that can appear (to the customer) to be breathtaking in its simplicity, if you were to look behind the curtain, you’ll find it to be equally breathtaking in the complexity backstage that drives that simplicity.

6. “Metrics and ‘best practices’ like 80-20 are carved in stone.” There are some purported best practices in the world of customer service and customer support that are more like superstition. Consider a metric that is widely used in the world of contact centers: “80/20” — 80 percent of all calls should be answered in 20 seconds or less. This caught on because of its facile similarity to the Pareto Principle, but the last thing you should aim to do is to Pareto-principle your valuable customers (i.e., to neglect 20% of them). Always be cautious when you find best practices that are actually received wisdom, with no science or verified experience behind them.

7. “Customer service is essentially a frontline, ‘low level’ issue.” I wrote about this at length recently, but it’s an attitude that causes big, big problems. Although frontline, customer-facing employees are one of the most essential elements of great (and not so great) customer service, what makes service great, or prevents their greatness, also reaches much higher up in the organization. If the folks in the C-suite, including the CEO, fail to demonstrate that customer service is a priority and fail to model good internal and external customer service themselves, it probably won’t be.

Micah Solomon is an author, consultant, influencer, thought leader, keynote speaker, trainer, and subject matter expert (SME) in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, hospitality, innovation. (email, chat, web).