Distinguishing Superheroes from Villains

Customer service is usually perceived as a necessary evil, not something we get excited about, on either side of the phone. What if we instead viewed our part of the customer service equation enthusiastically, as an opportunity rather than a burden? We might be more motivated to do so if we realize that each time we are called upon to tackle a client issue, we will be seen as either a villain or a superhero, depending upon our reaction to the problem. If we just plod through the interaction without really caring about it, we’re cast as the villain; if we deliver spectacular customer service, we get the role of superhero. We need to merit wearing the cape by demonstrating that we’re willing and able to come to the client’s rescue in a way that is meaningful to them.

Being relegated to the part of the villain doesn’t happen just because we do something wrong. If we’re not wearing the cape, the world often sees us as the villain.

Dressing for Success
The skill of looking for opportunities to be superheroes to our clients is one that can be cultivated. Of course, that doesn’t mean we want to start fires just so we get to be the hero. But we can train ourselves to root out our clients’ concerns so that we can address them in a spectacular way. That’s why I use the term “superhero” – fixing a problem changes nothing in the client’s eyes unless it matters to us as much as it does to them. Unless we’re wearing the cape and helping them in a way that will seem meaningful beyond the technical aspects, we’re just delivering the expected standard of customer service. Ho-hum. It makes us look more like helpless bystanders than heroes. Incidentally, the word “villain” is derived from the Latin word for farmhand. It was originally used to indicate someone who was not chivalrous and was thus unworthy of being a knight. When a client is unhappy or upset, that’s almost the perfect time to put on the cape. An even better time is always. Rather than putting on the cape, we can making wearing it a way of life.

What’s the difference between the following two sentences?

“Oh, great, there’s a problem here.” “Oh, great, there’s a problem here!”
Obviously, it’s enthusiasm – a “cape attitude,” so to speak. If you asked someone for help, would you want him to be a reluctant hero, acting like it was a hassle, or to be proud that you believed he could be of assistance? If we’re not thinking, “Oh, good, now I get to put the cape on!” then we shouldn’t be surprised when clients think we don’t care or are even working against their interests, because if their problems don’t truly matter to us, it’s the same thing, isn’t it? A person who has the same concerns as us is seen as a hero; a person who doesn’t share our concerns, or who does but doesn’t take action, is viewed as a villain.

People see those who share their concerns as heroes.

Sharing the Cape
We can take this concept a step further and design our processes and our interactions with customers so that everyone gets to wear the cape sometimes. For example, my company made a change in its collections system. We have a large pile of receivables due from hundreds of customers. The way it used to work was that our accounts receivable people called these debtors and aggressively tried to get them to pay. After repeated attempts, the customers stopped calling back and refused to pick up the phone because they felt like they were being hunted down by a villain.

To give our accounts receivable personnel the opportunity to wear the cape, we took them out of the villain role. Now, our system automatically prints out past due notices that we can mail or email to customers. Instead of a person being the villain, today, the system is the villain. No one has to call clients to tell them they’re going to be disconnected or sent to collections. Whatever the threat is, it comes in the form of a system-generated notice that is made to look like it came from a computer, not a human.

As I said before, though, superhero status isn’t achieved merely by not doing something the client perceives as wrong; it’s coming to the aid of the “downtrodden.” With this system, our people can call the customers and say, “Sir, you’re a great customer, but I saw you received a disconnect notice. Please call me. I can help.” Because we changed our process, accounting gets to put on the cape instead of feeling like the bad guys all the time. The frantic customer is more likely to call in because he believes someone is trying to help him, and a person in accounting can be the hero who sets up a payment plan for him and placates the system by entering in specific dates and dollar amounts. The customer hangs up the phone feeling great about the hero in accounting who did battle on his behalf against the pesky system that kept sending him intimidating letters.

The next time you’re faced with a client issue, will your reaction make you look like a villain or a superhero? It doesn’t take superhuman effort to summon a cape attitude, yet your enthusiastic approach will leave a lasting impression.


© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.

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