Simply saying the phrase can conjure up about a million different images. That’s because everyone has their own idea about what customer service is – or what it isn’t, depending on our most recent experience. Further, for people who work in positions that provide customer service, there may be different definitions for the phrase depending on if we are providing or receiving it.
And that’s the problem.
I could probably rant and rave for at least 5,000 words about being in a customer service providing position and not being able to provide a quality service thanks to employers’ unrealistic expectations and the barriers they put up to providing it. That’s a big part of why I spent a long time waiting for the opportunity to start my own business, so I wouldn’t have to work for The Man and his nonsense anymore. Instead, I will focus on the entrepreneur. One of my illustrations will involve someone who works for a large company, but it will make sense in the overall scheme. Like any good preacher, I have 3 points. It will take 3 posts to cover them all. So let’s get to point 1.
Walk in their shoes
“Walk A Mile In His/Her Shoes” is a popular meme, illustration and cliché. But I believe you don’t have to walk a full mile in someone else’s shoes to realize what they are going through. You really only need a few steps.
As my business was creeping along very slowly at the beginning, I began going to a nearby plasma donation center to pick up a few extra bucks. You quickly settle into a several-step routine:
- You walk in and go to a touch-screen kiosk to answer some basic health questions.
- Go to an area where your vital signs are checked and a tiny blood sample is taken and screened.
- Go to the donor floor, get seated on a bed, and a phlebotomist hooks you up to the machine that draws blood, separates the plasma, and returns the red blood cells to your arm. It takes anywhere from 4-8 cycles to get a full bottle of plasma, and anywhere from 40-90 minutes of time.
I’m generally done with the actual plasma donation portion in about 45 minutes. You can donate twice in a 7-day period with at least 2 days between each donation. Any or all 3 of the stations could have a line, depending on demand. The center closest to me opens at 5:30 AM, and there are always anywhere from 10-25 people already waiting when the doors open. By 6:00, that wave has gone through and is donating, and there is very little line-waiting. So that’s when I go. Most days, I arrive at 6:00 and am out of there by 7:30 and can get on with my day.
The center is part of a huge national company that has hundreds of donation centers across the country. Like every other large corporation in the world, the one and only concern of the company is profit maximization. As such, they offer the lowest payout to donors they can get away with, and staff the centers with the fewest number of employees as possible so that the donors will keep coming back. Middle managers are under pressure to do so as well – find out what is the absolute minimum number of employees you can have on the floor, and then see if you can do it with fewer than that. This puts the workers under heavy pressure, especially if there are long lines. You know how we humans are – we hate to wait for anything. When we get stuck in a waiting line, we get impatient, agitated and even angry. The people surrounding us often get to have those feelings dumped on them, whether they deserve it or not. This is where “walking in their shoes” comes into play, for both giving and receiving customer service.
I have established a routine of donating on Tuesdays and Fridays. This past Friday, I walked in at 6:00 as usual and thought it was going to be an easy day. No one was at the kiosks. There was no line at the vital sign checking station. I was through those 2 checks in about 7 minutes, a record low. There was no line at the donor floor either. This center has 5 bays of beds, with 10 beds in each bay. Only 2 were in use, and each appeared to be half-full. Then one of the workers recognized me (like I said in my last post, you can pick me out in a huge crowd), and said, “We can only put 6 in a bay right now. You want Melisa to stick you, right?” I nodded and sat down to wait for a seat.
(In one of my first visits, Melisa hooked me up to the machine. She is a tiny, perky native of Hawaii with a sing-song-ey voice and bubbly personality. She’s also a fantastic stick. After working with her the first time, I began specifically requesting her every time I donate. I don’t have to ask anymore; every phlebotomist in the building recognizes me and knows I’m going to ask for her.)
As I sat waiting, the other chairs in the waiting area filled up. People began to gripe. Melisa came around the corner and saw me. “Hi James! Has anyone told you what’s going on here?” I said I had been told only 6 could be seated at a time. “Yes,” she sighed. “We had 2 people call out this morning, so there’s only 3 of us working. As soon as these folks start finishing, we can bring some more in.” OK, fair enough. I’ll just put my headphones back on and fire up the podcast app and chill. I ended up getting seated about 20 minutes later. No biggie. Melisa apologized multiple times when she arrived to set me up. I said it was all good, I knew it wasn’t the fault of the few people working. She said, “I wish you could explain that to some other people. They wait, get mad, then when they get in here, start griping at us. I want to say, ‘hey, don’t go off on me because I showed up to work on time. You’re mad at the wrong person.’”
How completely true! There was very little Melisa and her two co-workers could do. There was supposed to be 5 of them on the floor. Two called in saying they wouldn’t be coming in (or “called out”), and the 3 of them were left with no choice but to limit the number of donors that could be in beds at one time. The idea is to have just enough people so they would all finish donating at different times, so no one is waiting to get taken down. If they went ahead and put 20 people in beds instead of 12, Murphy’s Law dictates that the first donors would finish much slower than the later ones, to the point where all 20 of them would finish at the same time, and then they would wait for what would seem like forever to get unhooked from the machine so they could go.
How many times have we been in a position of not getting the service we expected, got upset, and lashed out at the person we were working with? Have we considered what’s going on from their perspective? Better yet, have you, as a business owner, received heavy backlash from a client or customer you think or know was unwarranted? Whether we are the givers or receivers of customer service, considering what the person on the other end of the business dealing will go a long way toward being better customer service agents – whether giving it or receiving it.
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