A close cousin of the statement that “doctors make the worst patients” might be that “customer service professionals make the worst customers.”  I had a customer service experience this week that was innocuous to the untrained eye but fairly egregious for someone who helps organizations implement customer service best practices.  It felt like a great teaching moment, so I’m here to share.

In the spirit of confidentiality, I’ll keep the scenario somewhat broad. Let’s just say that my colleagues and I reached out to a company for technical support in a business setting – the vendor’s platform wasn’t working properly.  We reported the first issue with no response.  We reported the second issue (related but different from the first issue) with no response.  We followed up a day later.  The email response we finally received said:

We have reported this to our Technical team. 

Like I said, innocuous but egregious.  And you might think, “well how many ways can she find fault with a one-sentence email?”.  It was less about what was said, and more about what wasn’t said.  In the spirit of crawl before you can walk before you can run, here are three flavors of how this rep could have responded to us:

Good (Crawl): 

I know this is causing an inconvenience for you. We have reported this to our Technical team.

In this version, the rep is merely offering a bit of empathy to acknowledge the pain created by the platform’s errors.  It’s not much, but it certainly makes the interaction more human.

Better (Walk):

I know this is causing an inconvenience for you. We have reported this to our Technical team, and I expect to hear back from them by [timeframe].

Here, we’re building on the “good” by working to set expectations on when the customer will hear back. Expectation setting is incredibly good for both the business and for customer experience.  Good for business because it avoids the repeat “any update?” contacts that will take time away from other tasks to respond to.  Good for the customer experience because in the absence of any information, they are left to make assumptions (and will frequently assume either the worst or the best, neither of which is great for the company unless they end up delivering on the best-case scenario).

Best (Run):

I know this is causing an inconvenience for you. We have reported this to our Technical team, and I expect to hear back from them by [timeframe].

While they investigate the issue, here are a few alternatives I might suggest to help you accomplish [the task we were trying to complete]…

In this version, the rep is actually becoming an advocate for the customer by acknowledging the issue, taking ownership of it internally, being transparent about a timeline to resolution, and also offering a recommendation on an alternative solution.  Advocacy-based responses can significantly improve the perceived quality of the experience as well as reduce the customer’s perception of effort.

Frequently, customer service leaders feel like the only path to improving the service experience is to actually enable or empower their reps to provide different outcomes for customers (which usually manifests as more cost to the company in the form of more discounts! more rushed shipping! more refunds!).  It is important to note here that the outcome wouldn’t have been any different for any of these scenarios.  My colleagues and I will still have to wait to hear back from the technical team.  But we could be just slightly more informed and slightly less in the dark – which can go a long way for the customer experience.


Challenger, Inc.

Challenger is the global leader in training, technology, and consulting to win today’s complex sale. Our sales transformation and training programs are supported by ongoing research and backed by our best-selling books, The Challenger Sale, The Challenger Customer, and The Effortless Experience.