Rules Go Bad
By Laurie Brown
Tony did exactly as he was trained. He sent a hand-written thank you
note to his customer. However, when his customer received it she was
furious and tore it up into little pieces before throwing it out.
How could something as well intentioned as a thank you note
(hand written, at that) create such a negative reaction? As it
turns out, this customer was still in the process of getting a
serious issue resolved with Tony and his company. The thank you note
arrived before this issue was dealt with, he never mentioned it, and
he never apologized for the problem. Even though the thank you note
was handwritten, it was as impersonal as a mass produced letter that
starts with “Dear Customer.”
only train your employees to routinely do things without
understanding the subtleties and context of their actions, you run
the risk that they’ll do the right things but in the wrong way. Here
are some of the most common customer service rules, when to break
them and alternative best practices to apply instead.
Rule One: Always Use the Customer’s name:
said “The sweetest sound in any language is the sound of one’s own
name.” Though it may be true that using a customer’s name can create
a sense of intimacy, it can also have the opposite effect. Watch out
for the following mistakes.
Using the customer’s name too often. “Well, Bob, you can see that
this is the perfect solution for your business, don’t you agree Bob?
After all Bob, studies have shown this to be true. And Bob….”
Overusing your customer’s name may make them uncomfortable, seeming
like an insincere gimmick rather than a true connection.
Mispronouncing your customer’s name. Some people have names that
are hard to pronounce or have an unusual pronunciation. In either
case it is always good to ask the proper way to pronounce their
name. Once you’ve heard the proper pronunciation, it’s essential
that you pronounce it correctly. Customer’s may forgive you for not
saying it right, but it will still grate on your customer’s nerves
to hear his or her name said wrong repeatedly.
Being too formal or too informal when using your customer’s name.
Some people prefer to use their first name; some prefer an honorific
such as Mr., Miss, Ms, Mrs., Ma’am, Sir, etc. It is far more
respectful to start off by being formal letting your customer tell
you their preference.
Best Practice: Use your customers name in a way that shows respect
and begins to build rapport.
Always Shake Your Customers Hand:
For decades salespeople have been taught to shake hands in order to
connect and build trust and rapport with their customers. However,
there are a number of situations where offering a handshake can
create more tension than trust.
Cultural Issues.: There are many cultures and religions in which
handshaking is either forbidden or considered rude. If you are
dealing with a multi-cultural customer base, learn all you can about
the appropriate ways to greet and welcome them.
Social Anxiety: For some people, the mere thought of having to shake
hands creates a level of tension that can ruin the entire
People with compromises immune systems: In 1918 the town of
Prescott, Arizona outlawed handshaking to attempt to slow down the
spread of the flu epidemic. Many people have been told by their
doctors that they should not shake hands in order to protect their
fragile immune systems. There are also perfectly healthy people who
are afraid of the germs that can be transmitted by a handshake.
Best Practice: Instead of initiating the handshake it is better to
wait until your customer makes the first move. Keep your arms
relaxed but ready to respond. If they start to shake your hand, you
can easily reach out and grasp their hand in return.
Rule Three: Always Send a Handwritten Thank You Note:
In this impersonal business world a handwritten note will help you
stand out and make a great impression, but sometimes a note can have
the opposite effect.
Sending a thank you note before a problem is successfully resolved.
As in the opening story, don’t send a thank you note if your
customer has an unresolved problem. Don’t send a note unless it’s an
apology, not a thank you.
Impersonal note: A perfunctory “thank you for doing business with
us” can fall flat like a form letter, ruining whatever connection
you may have with your customer.
Best Practice: Although a handwritten note is still somewhat
personal in its nature, you need to take it a step further by
writing something unique that relates to each customer. Your note
should include references to what you have spoken about with the
customer (i.e. Their kid’s baseball game; the health of a loved one,
Rule Four: Follow the Golden Rule:
From the time we are children we have been taught to follow the
golden rule. “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”
Following this rule can create a number of problems:
Treating your customer in a way that makes them uncomfortable. It is
somewhat egocentric to assume that your customer always has the same
wants and desires that you do. For example, if you are a gregarious
person who likes lots of conversation and connection, you risk
pushing your customer away if that kind of treatment makes them
Missing an opportunity to surprise and delight. When you only use
yourself as a reference about what would impress your customer you
lose the ability to be nimble and creative. When you listen
carefully to your customer he or she will give you clues about what
you can do to go the extra mile.
Best Practice: Use the Platinum Rule; “Treat others the way they
want to be treated.” This ensures that your customer will be treated
in a way that meets his or her needs.
The bottom line to all these rule breakers and best practices is to
keep your customer service personal. Don’t just follow the rules,
choose the best way to apply them to meet and exceed your
Read other articles and learn more
[This article is available at no-cost, on a non-exclusive basis.
Contact PR/PR at 407-299-6128 for details and