Perfecting The Customer Service Pause And Ask

bend-and-snapOne of my all time favorite movies is Legally Blonde.  Ok it’s not my favorite but I do enjoy it.  In that movie we learn an essential customer service technique called the Bend and Snap.  Wait, I think that one is more useful when a woman wants to get the attention of a man.  Actually, the technique I want to highlight is one that will get the attention of your customers.  I like to call it the Pause and Ask.

We enrolled our son Zack in swim lessons this summer and this past Saturday was his first lesson.  When we showed up for our 11:10am lesson, I quickly learned that it was actually at 11:50am.  Wow, how did I get that wrong?  I asked the guy at the counter if Zack could play in the pool until his lesson started.  Seriously, how many kids (or adults) do you know who are going to want to wait next to a pool for 45 minutes on a hot day?  The guy at the desk said that would not be possible and that we just needed to wait for our appointment.

Mildly annoyed, I walked away and called my wife to tell her about the situation.  She confirmed with me that the paper we were given said the lesson was at 11:10.  After some internal debate, I went back to the counter to plead my case.  The dialog went something like this.

Me: I know you told me the lesson is at 11:50 but I have a paper at home that says it’s at 11:10.  Have you ever tried to occupy a 5-year-old for 45 minutes?  Can you at least let him swim until his lesson?

Him: Sorry about that.  I can’t reschedule the lesson at this point.  I can’t just let him swim unless you want to pay extra for him to swim.

Me: I paid $25 for a swim lesson.  Why should I have to pay extra for him to swim?

He pauses to consult with his supervisor…

Him:  “Ok he can go ahead and swim.”

Me: “Thank you!”

This scenario has some layers to it that I would like to unpack.

Seeking to understand

Had the employee understood that I showed up way too early for the lesson and granted my first request to use the pool while we waited, he would have saved us both some time and aggravation and delighted a customer.  From his standpoint, I realize that it is very difficult to discern if the customer is trying to take advantage of the situation and get something for free.  This is a very difficult balance to strike.

Empowered to recover well

When I returned to point out that the pool employees causes the misunderstanding in the first place, he still wanted to charge me to use the pool –even after I had paid for a lesson.  This was another opportunity to override a policy, side with the customer and allow us to use the pool.

The pause and ask

In a previous post I said Stick to your guns and you may shoot yourself in the foot.  When I pushed back a third time on the policy and their mistake, rather than sticking to his guns, the employee paused and got a second opinion from a supervisor.

In the words of Shep Hyken, The customer isn’t always right, but they are always the customer!”  As I’m writing this, I realize that the Pause and Ask actually occurred after I pushed back three times.  The fact that it happened at all is good but after the first push back would have been much better.

If you think customer service doesn’t matter at a pool, think again.  There are several other pools near our house that would gladly take my business.  That is why it is so important for customer service professionals, even at a swimming pool, to recognize when a customer is pushing back and perfect the Pause and Ask!

Now, for a little entertainment, enjoy this video clip from Legally Blonde!


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  • Situations like the one you describe are so common. The pool rep saw nothing from your perspective. Once given info he failed to bend the rules. If he was empowered to make changes or opened his eyes to clearly see the situation he would have been better at his job. Great post, I love a good story.

  • This is a great example of why having a customer service vision is so important.

    The employee in your example was clearly just trying to get you to go away. In that moment, they didn’t view their job as providing you with service or making sure your son had a great day at the pool.

    It’s a simple mind-shift, but one that’s largely instinctive in organizations and teams that don’t often talk about service. I guarantee that employee’s conversations with the supervisor have been about rules and regulations, but not about delighting customers.

    • Jeff, you are totally right. As I have reflected on this experience and your comment, this is totally cultural at that pool and it definitely points to the vision.

  • Pingback: 3 Levels of Pause and Ask in Customer Service | Communicate Better Blog

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