When Customer Service Gets Personal

This article was originally published on the FCR blog on April 17, 2017. Click here

Photo Credit: Timothy Tsui via CC License

to read the original.

I recently wrote an article for the Relate by Zendesk blog titled, “Blurred lines: when customers want to be friends.” In it I shared my own personal experiences where, after spending long hours working with a “fun” customer, he moved to friend me on Facebook. I explored this dynamic in customer service where sometimes we make a meaningful connection with a customer, solve their problem, and voila, now they want to be friends. I’ve seen gifts, marriage proposals, job offers, you name it.

For that article, I asked my colleagues at FCR to share some of their stories and was able to include a few great ones. I thought it would be fun to share a few more of their that came through that really illustrate this point well and also highlight the tremendous impact customer service professionals make on the lives of customers when they make human to human connections. Here are five more for you.

Getting customers through their darkest hour

You never know what’s going on in a customer’s life when they contact support. In some cases, they are alone and a friendly voice can make all the difference. Check out this powerful story from Kimberly.

Years ago while working for USAA a man contacted the customer service line by mistake. He was supposed to go to the bereavement line. Typically we were supposed to cold transfer these calls to that department where they were then bounced around to other departments to close all of the deceased individual’s accounts.

This man broke down in a way that I’ve never heard a man cry before. Instantly I had tears in my eyes. He proceeded to tell me how his wife had died in childbirth and for 22 years it had only been him and his son. His son had been killed in Iraq. After sharing words and tears I informed the man that I would have to transfer him to the other department. He begged to stay on the line.

I finally looked at my boss and I told him “I’ll stay on the line until you have completed closing all of your son’s accounts.” I offered him my deepest condolences and when I eventually warm transferred him I advised the rep I would be staying on the line. Too choked up to tell his story again, I ended up explaining his situation to all 5 departments he had to talk to that day and helping him through the call.

The next day he called my supervisor and stated, “Not only could I have not gotten through that call without Kimberly, but her gentle understanding and genuine sympathy was the difference between grieving and an all out breakdown for me.” After speaking with my supervisor he talked to me again and asked if I had ever lost a child. I replied, “No I haven’t. Why do you ask?” He answered, “Your genuine empathy and the understanding you showed to me led me to believe that you had.” I replied, ” I have lost loved ones but certainly cannot understand the horrific loss of a child. As a mother, from one parent to another, just the thought of losing one of my children cut a pain through my heart almost too great to bear, and I suppose that helped me to feel for you as I should have. No parent should ever have to bury a child.” He thanked me again and hung up.

Six months later my boss showed me a newspaper clipping about people in the area who had lost loved ones in Iraq and it told some of their stories. Among them was an intercept from the man. In the article he told about how he had planned to end his life after taking care of his son’s business, but the compassion of one customer service agent turned that around for him. I guess my moral here is that there’s a time to be professional and follow the rules, and there’s a time to break those rules when it’s on behalf of another person.

Sometimes it’s nice to have a familiar face

Logan explores how it’s nice to have “regulars” in customer service — but who sees the most benefit? Customer or customer service representative? Check out his story.

I used to work at a “Big name” retail store in the electronics department. My story begins with a man named Steve. He was an older guy, and a regular customer with us. Steve came to me for assistance with his cell phone. Before I even began to address his concern, he told me, “You know, you look a lot like my son. I don’t see him much anymore, but you’ve got a nice smile, just like his.” I thanked him and carried on with helping him out. All the man really needed was to buy another prepaid card for his service time and I offered to apply that card to his plan for him. He agreed. We got on the phone and started the process of typing numbers on the dial pad to some automated service line which drones on and on about other offers that the company had.

After we finished with his request, he thanked me and left. He didn’t return until the next month, as I expected most of our customers to do. Low and behold, here was Steve, with the same request, on the same day of the next month. I had already began guessing that this would be a “clockwork” sort of thing, which didn’t really bother me. I liked having “regulars.” Steve sought me out, saying that I was the only one he wanted to help him, and I was more than happy to. I walked over to him, shook his hand, and asked him how he was. He greeted me with a warm smile and said, “Hi son!” We laughed and then I began the process we had done the month prior. This went on for a few months, and months eventually rolled into a year. For an entire year, Steve sought out my assistance over and over, and I was more than happy to help him. He even started coming in more consistently, making it a weekly thing. He would come to the store JUST to talk with me. He said that I made his day every week. Just once a week. Twenty minutes is all it took. I grew to like Steve and looked forward to his weekly visits every time I clocked in for my shift.

Now that I no longer have my old job, I still think of my old friend Steve now and again. It’s really amazing how just one little chunk of time can make a world of difference to another person’s life.

Helping customers out of a jam

Many customer service roles involve helping get customers out of jams on a regular basis and it’s only natural that some customers will be extra grateful. Pattie explores this in her story.

When I was a customer service representative for a roadside assistance company, they had call in needing a tow for their car. I promptly got all of their information, where they were stranded, and then disconnected with them to call the tow company.

I called the tow company, they gave me a quick ETA, and I was delighted because they were stranded on a merge lane/off ramp on the I-5 in Seattle, WA. Very treacherous! I then reached out to the customer and told her when they would arrive. She was very grateful and thanked me profusely. I said, “You’re welcome” and the call ended.

When the customer was safe back at her office and the car was being repaired, she called again. She spoke to another colleague on my team and wanted to find a way to thank me personally. About a week later, I received a personal note in the mail thanking me for doing such a great job and really caring for her and her needs. I was delighted to receive the note and appreciated the sentiment!

Sometimes customers want to tip for great service

There were a number of stories where customers wanted to offer a tip for great service. Depending on the nature of the business it might have been offering them a stay in a timeshare or adding them to their will. Here’s a good story from Michael.

I worked for a call center where we helped people with online hotel reservations. Our customers were not only the guests, but also the hotels. I was speaking with a hotelier who owned a private hotel on an Island off of Europe. He was so happy with my service and the understanding that I showed to assist him with the guest that he offered for me to come out and he would give me a free week in his hotel. He told me to bring someone and we would get free meals and drinks while we stayed. He got to asking about my relationship status, if I had any vacation coming up, and that he really wanted to meet me and thank me in person.

Sometimes you get to make a real difference

My colleague, Damon really wraps up the power of great service with his story.

Back when I worked for a company supporting memory cards, we had a customer who had recently lost a loved one. The only recent pictures they had of their loved one were on a memory card that was corrupted. We were able to help restore the images by using some image recovery software we had at our disposal. Needless to say, she was very appreciative, and gave us a heartfelt and tearful ‘thank you.’ She was able to retrieve those precious memories that she feared were lost. Sometimes the work we do can be an actual life-changer, and that feels really good from a CS standpoint. We’re doing more than just fixing broken stuff. We’re doing important work for people when they have nowhere else to turn.

Well said, Damon! Sometimes there’s tremendous power when we connect with other human beings and do our job of solving their problem. Do you have a similar story to tell? If so, leave us a comment below. I’d love to hear it.

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  • Great article. I came across this video by accident a few years ago. It’s a training video put together by Chick-Fil-A. It paints a picture that customers are people, and may be dealing with a lot of things we don’t know about. Not only do I have my people watch it, I watch it once a month, just to keep me grounded. It helps me with people in the grocery store, in restaurants, in traffic. Watch the video, it really helps with empathy, and support of the customer. https://youtu.be/2v0RhvZ3lvY

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