Exceptions create opportunities to provide exceptional customer service

September 23, 2013

service-heroics-copyHave you ever noticed the tendency of frontline employees to become defensive—even surly—when you bring a problem or misunderstanding to their attention?

Unless your business has systemic, unresolved issues, problems and misunderstandings are exceptions. By definition, exceptions do not conform to the general rule. This makes them infrequent. That’s why they’re exceptions.

When exceptions occur in your place of business, how are they typically handled?

In many cases, exceptions such as misunderstandings, unmet expectations, or problems experienced (when brought to the attention of frontline employees) create a palpable communication barrier that neutralizes employees’ smiles, eye contact, and enthusiasm to serve.

It’s as if a customer’s problem, when expressed, drives a wedge between him and the employee. Instead of seeing the situation as an opportunity to serve, many employees recoil and judge the customer as being difficult or demanding.

Last week, a friend’s 9-year-old son, Evan, fractured a bone in his left foot while bouncing on the equipment at Jumpoline Park Family Fun Center in Aurora, Colorado. According to a text I received from his mother, “(A Jumpoline employee) brought Evan over to Shawntel (Evan’s guardian that afternoon), set him down, and told her he had hurt his ankle. Then he brought her a bag of ice. That was the extent of it. While he was icing to see how bad it was, Shawntel went over to get a rain check because they had only been there 30 minutes and she had paid for two hours for all three kids. So they called over the manager and he wasn’t happy about giving a rain check. Finally, he consented to giving her one hour for each kid, but wouldn’t give the 90 minutes they hadn’t used.”

Here’s the lesson contained in this text message: When a Jumpoline guest injures him/herself on the equipment, it’s an exception. And exceptions create opportunities to provide exceptional customer service. Rather than approach affected guests with suspicion, Jumpoline employees should treat them with courtesy and respect.

Too many service providers view exceptions (like Evan’s injury) as necessary evils to endure (while placating demanding customers) rather than as opportunities to provide exceptional customer service (while creating delighted/loyal customers). As a result, they forfeit opportunities to deliver service heroics, increase customer satisfaction, and cement the relationship.

When Jumpoline staff recognize this truth, parents of guests who injure themselves (or experience other setbacks) will not be labeled as “difficult” and treated as such. Instead, these guests—these exceptions—will be seen as creating opportunities for staff to display empathy, express genuine interest, and, in other ways, provide exceptional customer service.

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Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

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  • Jon Borillo

    Yes, there are times when it pays to go out of your way, to get out of the box. Giving some leeway to a deserving client can turn him or her into a satisfied customer. Of course, we say “deserving” because there are times when there are folks who just want to get a free ride. Yet that’s another story for another day.

  • http://stevecurtin.com Steve Curtin

    Jon, I agree with your “deserving” reference because, as Aristotle observed, “There’s nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.” Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

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