Authenticity matters in customer service

My new head shot - it looks like the real meI recently had to get a new head shot for the jacket of my upcoming customer service book, Service Failure. These sorts of things are tough for me because I never know exactly what look to go for. I'll admit to spending a good deal of time looking at other author's head shots to find examples that resonated with me.

Finally, I decided to just be me. I wanted my headshot to pretty much look like the person who would show up at a client's office or be at a speaking engagement. In other words, the look I was going for was authentic.

Fortunately, I think Ted Donovon at Donovon Photography nailed it. (Shout out for great service - Ted is personable, does great work, and turns things around fast!)

Why Authenticity Matters

The short answer is your customers can tell the difference. We like authentic - it can feel trustworthy, welcoming, and enthusiastic so long as your company and your employees really are those things. 

Customers can also tell when an employee is faking it. I love this vintage commercial from Pacific Southwest Airlines that promoted the difference:


(Here's a link in case you can't view the video.)

Terrific stuff, right? Unfortunately, Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) was acquired a number of years ago by US Airways, but I still have fond memories of flying on PSA when I was a kid. 

3 Ways to Keep it Real

There are many ways to promote authentic customer service, but I'll give you three of my favorites.

#1 Hire people who want to do what you want them to do
It's never fun to encounter a customer service employee who clearly doesn't want to be there. This challenge can be partially remedied by hiring people who not only have the skills to do the job, but the passion to match.

My wife, Sally, and I were on vacation in Napa a few weeks ago when we met Bob at one of the wineries we visited. Over the course of our conversation, we learned that Bob worked in the tasting room at Rombauer Vineyards, but enjoyed wine so much that he went wine tasting on his day off. He gave us his card and invited us to stop by Rombauer later in the week. We decided to pay Bob a visit that Saturday, and despite a large crowd in the tasting room, he remembered us and treated us to an outstanding tasting experience. 

#2 Ditch the script
Scripts are for actors, not customer service employees. Give your employees guidelines if there's an essential message you need to convey, but don't trip them up with a clunky script that makes them sound like robots. (My disdain for scripts is frequently documented in this blog -- see my "ditch the scripts post.")

I once visited my local True Value hardware store and was greeted with, "What are you doing in here?!" That greeting would never pass muster in a corporate brand standards meeting, but it felt wonderfully authentic to me. The employee who greeted me had been helping me with a home project that required several unexpected trips back to the store. After each trip, we both hoped it would be my last visit for this particular project. Alas, when he saw me once again, he knew something else had gone wrong. 

#3 Give employees something to smile about
There's a flip side to authenticity, where customer service employees harbor negative feelings about their co-workers, their boss, or their company. Venting frustrations to customers is certainly authentic, but it's very unappealing. I want the people who serve me to keep it real, but I still want a great experience.

The antidote to this problem is to help employees maintain a positive outlook. Show appreciation for their contributions, acknowledge their successes, and help them recover from their mistakes. Be quick to share good news, but don't hide the bad news either. Involve them in solving problems. Make them feel like partners.

I'm sure there are many other ways to promote authentic customer service. Please be sure to share your ideas and comments.