5 Words That Customers Absolutely Hate
There are five words that every customer hates with a passion: "That is not my responsibility."
Regardless of whether you're in sales, support, engineering, marketing or management, if you say those words to a customer, that customer knows that your firm doesn't give a damn. And you've probably lost that customer, too. Here's why.
From inside your company, you know which person and group has responsibility for various aspects of your business. Therefore, if a coworker comes to you with a problem that's not in your bailiwick, you can send that coworker elsewhere.
The customer does NOT see your company that way. The customer doesn't care a rat's rear-end how your company is organized. All the customer sees is a person--you--who represents your entire company.
Therefore, if a customer comes to you with a problem, regardless of when or where or who you are, it's now YOUR responsibility to either fix that problem or see to it personally that the problem gets addressed in some way.
If you don't take ownership of the problem and instead just point the customer elsewhere, you are telling that customer that your company's internal structure and organizational politics are more important than the customer.
Customers hate that and rightly so.
Salespeople understand this. When a customer contacts them with a problem, they get right on it and work the issues until the problem is addressed. Unfortunately, employees who work outside of Sales don't always see it that way.
For example, suppose you're an engineer attending a conference. During cocktail hour you run into one of your firm's customers who surfaces a complaint about your company's support policies.
If you say "That's not my responsibility," the customer may understand intellectually that engineers don't set policy, but at a gut level the customer will feel that neither you, nor your company, cares enough to do something about it.
The only proper response to a customer problem is "I will help you." In the example above, the engineer should, at the very least, get the customer's contact info, then email the head of sales support describing the complaint, CCing the customer.
Similarly, suppose a customer accidentally calls your billing department with a technical problem. If the billing clerk says "this is billing" and then transfers the call to technical support, the customer will show your company doesn't really care.
Instead, the billing clerk should stay on the line while the call is transferred, wait until technical support has picked up, and then politely ask the customer if it's okay for the billing clerk to get off the line.
Can this be costly? Absolutely, especially if your phone system makes it easy for customers to accidentally get the billing department when they actually want technical support and if there are long wait times to get that support.
But the alternative is far worse: a customer doing a slow burn while on hold because an official representative of your company treated that customer as a nuisance to get rid of rather than the reason that your company exists.
Those are just two examples of an essential business rule:
The moment you're personally involved with a customer problem, it's your responsibility, not somebody else's, to ensure that the customer is satisfied.
There are no exceptions to this rule.
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GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist
Geoffrey James was recently named a "Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Master" by Forbes, and his blog has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. His writing has appeared in publications as diverse as Wired, Brandweek, and Men's Health, and he is the author of numerous books, including The Tao of Programming, Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite, and, most recently, Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.