Impact Learning Systems


The Zen of Customer Service Monica Postell

zen of cs crop The Zen of Customer ServiceHumor me. Take a long, slow breathe in as you read this. Now, take your time and exhale slowly blow­ing a steady stream of air. That wasn't Zen; it was just breath­ing but it felt good, didn't it?

To me Zen con­jures up feel­ings of tran­quil­ity and images of quiet, con­tem­pla­tive sit­ting (in a gar­den much like this) and of har­ness­ing the mind to med­i­tate on the mean­ing of life…or cus­tomer service.

If a com­mon zen med­i­ta­tion is "Who am I?" Then per­haps the cus­tomer ser­vice med­i­ta­tion might be "How can I BE the customer?"

I never expected to quote Chuck Nor­ris much less in a cus­tomer ser­vice post but here goes: "Zen begins and ends at the most human level, how peo­ple think of them­selves and oth­ers." That's a quote from his book "The Secret Power Within — Zen Solu­tions to Real Prob­lems."  He may have been talk­ing about mar­tial arts and Zen, but what he said surely applies to cus­tomer ser­vice.  How CSRs think of them­selves and oth­ers def­i­nitely shapes how they deliver cus­tomer service.

So how do we move our minds to BE the cus­tomer and act accordingly?

Here's a zen story that's thought pro­vok­ing. (And not because it involves beat­ing some­one with a stick!) The story goes that a young man wanted to mas­ter the art of sword fight­ing. Being a young, indus­tri­ous fel­low, he found him­self a mas­ter sword fighter and appren­ticed him­self to him with the agree­ment that the mas­ter would teach him the art of sword fight­ing. For the first few years all the lad did was cook, clean, and act as the master's ser­vant. Even­tu­ally, he reminded the mas­ter of their agree­ment and asked him to begin teach­ing him. The old fel­low agreed.

But the lessons had begun.  Just as the stu­dent began to cook the rice early the next morn­ing, the mas­ter sud­denly appeared behind him, whacked him with a wooden sword, and dis­ap­peared with­out say­ing a word.  The stu­dent then began sweep­ing out the rooms.   And at a cer­tain moment, when he least expected it, the mas­ter was there right beside him again, hit him again with the sword, and dis­ap­peared.  This went on all day, every day.  No mat­ter what the stu­dent was doing, he could never be at rest, know­ing that at any moment the mas­ter would again appear and hit him with the wooden sword.

A few years went by this way and even­tu­ally the stu­dent learned to suc­cess­fully dodge the master's blow no mat­ter which angle it came from.  The stu­dent felt he had accom­plished some­thing, but the mas­ter was not sat­is­fied with him yet.

Then one morn­ing, the stu­dent spot­ted the mas­ter busy cook­ing some veg­eta­bles over an open fire.  The stu­dent decided to turn the tables, picked up a big stick, and crept up on the mas­ter.  When the mas­ter stooped over the cook­ing pot, the stu­dent raised the stick and swung it down on the mas­ter — who in an instant grabbed the cover off the cook­ing pot, spun around, and used it to catch the tip of the stick.

In that moment the stu­dent had the kind of sud­den insight Zen is famous for:  He saw into one of the secrets of the art of sword fight­ing, that sen­sory aware­ness has to be devel­oped to the point that one can antic­i­pate move­ment as well as thought.

In Zen,the learn­ing expe­ri­ence is sub­tle and grad­ual. In cus­tomer ser­vice, the learn­ing expe­ri­ence is sub­tle and grad­ual as well. As much as we'd like to see CSRs leave new hire train­ing as  fully real­ized cus­tomer ser­vice pro­fes­sion­als, no amount of train­ing will make that hap­pen if the individual's atti­tude isn't already customer-focused and service-oriented.

It seems to me that the lessons learned in cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing can't solely be about how to put a call on hold or use sys­tems tools effi­ciently and effec­tively. And con­sid­er­ing that the vast major­ity of learn­ing occurs after train­ing, I have to won­der about the lessons learned on the job.

So I'll leave you with two ques­tions on which to meditate:

  • What would the impact be if  your CSRs left train­ing feel­ing good about them­selves, cer­tain of who they are and what they hope to accom­plish on every cus­tomer interaction—whether it's inter­nal or external?
  • What does your orga­ni­za­tion do on the job to sup­port the impor­tance of act­ing with integrity, being your best self, and serv­ing rather than ser­vic­ing customers?
With a back­ground in per­for­mance improve­ment and instruc­tional design, Mon­ica Postell works with Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems in design­ing and deploy­ing train­ing and devel­op­ment pro­grams that fos­ter real cus­tomer loyalty.
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Mon­ica Postell
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  • Anony­mous

    "cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing can’t solely be about how to put a call on hold or use sys­tems tools effi­ciently and effectively"

    It amazes me how often the cus­tomer is left out of cus­tomer ser­vice. Some­times fol­low­ing the rou­tine script isn't the right response. Call cen­ter employ­ees have to learn what to do when the unex­pected happens.

  • Jeff Mor­gan

    Great arti­cle. Reminds me we have much to learn. Much to do. Thank You…

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