The customer service mistake that nearly every business makes, over and over again, is to treat every customer the same. It's understandable that they would fall into this way of doing business, because the alternative-treating every customer as an individual-is more complicated and challenging than pretending that one size fits all.
Here are just a few of the ways customers are different, and that require you to treat them differently:
• Money doesn't mean the same thing to every customer. Restaurants that comp a dessert when things go wrong, hotels that try to discount a room charge, don't realize that these items, for business travelers at least, are paid for by the boss, so with such travelers they won't have the same meaning for them as they do for leisure travelers trying to stretch every dime. Another example: A high price to one customer may mean quality; to another it may mean "these guys are trying to rip us off."
• Time doesn't mean the same thing to every customer. Some customers have all the time in the world and appreciate a leisurely style of interaction. Others just want the facts and to have you out of their face so they can get on their way. A tricky thing about this one is that the same customer can appreciate a leisurely pace in one interaction and be tense and rushed in another, so reading a customer's pacing and signals is essential here.
• Your brand doesn't mean the same thing to every customer. To some, a brand like Disney means "corporate efficiency"; to another, it means nostalgic wholesome goodness. To some, a brand is enveloped in their relationship with a particular employee or employees; to others it depends on your corporate social responsibility (CSR). The signals a customer gives off in this regard will let you know how to interact successfully with one customer as opposed to another.
• An apology doesn't mean the same thing to every customer. When things go wrong, a deep, drawn-out apology can do magic with some customers, but to others it may seem like you're wasting their time rather than cutting to the chase, to the solution. This is a tricky one, because I always would counsel you to start your customer service recovery efforts with an apology, but how long and how deep to go with this should be tempered by the signals a particular customer is giving off.
The solution, in each of these cases and in the many other ways that customers are different is, in part, to recognize the situation and the failures of your corporate responses up until now. Having done that, you'll start to hire for sensitivity and train for sensitivity, as well as deploy systems (for example, Nextiva's NextOS with its built-in real-time sentiment analysis) that can recognize and accommodate differences. (For those of you unafraid of the latest technology, yes, in many cases, artificial intelligence (AI) can be deployed effectively to gauge customer sentiment and make sure you're getting off on the right foot with the particular customer in front of you.) You'll be impressed at the difference this change of approach will make in customer satisfaction-and ultimately in the bottom line.