Customer Competency – Picking Up the Slack

There are certain ‘skills’ that each of us considers to be standard, reasonably-assumed competencies of being an adult.  Whether we recognize it or not, we each make assumptions in our daily interactions based on personal expectations surrounding general knowledge, capabilities, and work ethic.  I have seen many frustrated customers making requests of customer service agents that would generally be considered outside of their scope of work.  Frequently, these are tasks that we would expect a regular person to complete without a second thought and without the need for additional education, training, effort, etc.  These may be items such as completing a form, mailing a package, or arranging for transportation to a place of business.

Consider directions – for example.  Specific, turn-by-turn directions used to be a standard component of any event flyer or advertisement.  Now, it is generally considered sufficient to provide an address or even just the name of a building when announcing locations.  The ability to navigate to your destination based on minimal information has moved into the realm of assumed adult skills – driven principally by advances in technology.  I can still recall the angry parent I encountered while coaching youth athletics who was upset that I was not able to provide an address to a local high school off the top of my head.  While I was able to offer verbal instructions, cross-streets, and general guidance,  this adult was so angry that written instruction had not been provided that she refused to allow her athletes to participate in the final competition of the season.  Should I take responsibility for this situation or can I blame the parent for failing to meet my expected levels of competency?

When 99% of our customers are able to complete a requisite task – do we need to make process adjustments to accommodate the remaining 1%?  Certainly, this can be a difficult questions to answer – especially when the financial and human resource impact of such a decision is weighed against the potential gain.  In general, there are two opposing schools of thought in this area – customer responsibility and corporate responsibility.  Customer responsibility maintains the position that it is reasonable to expect certain actions from our customers in their attempts to seek solutions to their problems.  The problem with this viewpoint is that it allows us to shift blame to our customers.  This may feel good in the moment, but it does not create a lasting, positive experience for the customer.

I have previously posted thoughts on whether we as customer service professionals accept responsibility for the difficulties of our customers – regardless of the specific circumstances (“Customer Responsibility – Are We Always the Ones to Blame” ).  It is our job as professionals to serve our customers and we must take whatever means necessary to ensure  they have equal access to information and services.  This is the idea of equity over equality.  In seeking to provide an amazing level of service to all of our customers, some people may need to travel farther to get there.  We may have to go above and beyond for some while others are just fine with ground level.  Providing the same exceptional service in each interaction should be the starting point to our relationships with customers, not the end position.

What are your experiences with customer who need that little extra?  Please leave a comment below!




About davidbernst

Hello! My name is David Ernst and you've reached my blog. I've spent my professional career as a teacher, customer service supervisor, and pediatric office manager.
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One Response to Customer Competency – Picking Up the Slack

  1. Pingback: The Last Call – Creating ‘First Person Resolution’ for Customers | PERCEPTIONS by David Ernst

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