Customer service isn’t hard. No really. It’s not difficult to do. Why do companies struggle so hard with it, then? The answer is simple: they put the emphasis on the “service” and not the “customer."

You might say, “well, shouldn’t they worry about the quality of their services?” And you’d be right: they should. However there’s a higher level of customer service that requires less technology and quality in terms of the service itself, and more on personal relationships.

Doing it wrong is much easier than doing it right.

At large scales, having a real understanding of your customer’s qualitative needs can be difficult. Typically, empathy gives way to analysis, and feelings are replaced by datasets. There’s no easy way around this particular block. While technology like SalesForce and FullContact make it somewhat easier for businesses to track their customers, there’s still an emotional separation.

Part of the reason is that companies don’t do enough to meet customers on their home turf. When working with clients, I frequently introduce them to methods like empathy maps and journey maps. Although the technique is foreign to most, they can really help illuminate businesses about the jobs their customers really want them to do.

As a consequence of this holistic perspective shift, businesses can (and should) figure out which channels their customers are using at the time, and focus on understanding scalable tactics that will help keep customers happy there. This has two main benefits: happier customers are more loyal customers, and they’re also more likely to refer new business.

For example, I recently moved to Los Angeles and started EB Advising: a mission-driven advising agency that works with small businesses, non-profits, corporations, citizens, and cities to better understand the challenges they face, and help design solutions based on opportunities. When my wife and I signed up for our internet service at home, I was worried: past experiences with installation and customer service, when it comes to ISPs, have not been positive.

Pleasantly, we’ve discovered Time Warner Cable (at least in Los Angeles) is staffed and supported by a customer service team whose philosophy focuses on “customer” first, and “service” second. Here’s where our personal “first world problems” come into play.

We purchased a modem to use, rather than rent from Time Warner. When our installation technician arrived, he was ready. While there were some technical hiccups on Time Warner’s end, he stayed until the job was done, and explained what was happening along the way.

Until today, we’d had no issues with our service. When an outage hit our neighborhood, I figured I’d try reaching out on Twitter:

Lo and behold, two minutes later I had been followed and tweeted at by @TWC_Help, an account set up to address online concerns, specifically on Twitter. Within ten minutes, they had provided follow-up information for when our service would return.

At each step in the way of our installation and the outage, I felt informed. This feeling is key. Customers, particularly when things are going wrong, don’t want to be lied to. They don’t want the truth to be obfuscated behind politically or financially correct language. They can handle the truth, and it behooves services providers to keep it from them.

I won’t go as far as to say I know every interaction with Time Warner’s customer support services is this positive. I’m sure, because there are thinking, feeling people on the other side of the phone and the Tweets, that they have bad days, too. Sometimes those bad days mean negative customer service experiences. So long as both people remember that, things can't get that bad,

About the author:

Ethan Bagley is a service designer, facilitator, philosopher, and many other things. He lives in the greater Los Angeles area with his wife and dog, and travels the world solving problems as a part of EB Advising. When he’s not creating solutions, he’s volunteering with Hack for LA, Atheists United, and other mission-driven organizations.

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