D7's Rule's of Customer Service

First, let's eliminate one right off the bat. Contrary to the cliche, the customer is not always right. Anybody who has worked in the service industry can testify to this point. You've undoubtedly seen the jerk at a store or restaurant or whatever making unreasonable demands, being demeaning to employees, throwing his weight around, and generally just being an a-hole. It happens in every industry including enterprise software, where I make my living. This guy is most assuredly not right. He's just a douche bag. If you have enough of these kind of customers, and you treat them as though they're always right, your going to have to seriously raise your prices to cover your service costs, which is going to cost you business and/or eat into your margins.

Rather than the customer is always right, I offer these rules of customer service:

  • In any situation, the priority is to treat the customer fairly. That doesn't just mean when you're answering support calls, it also applies to when you're creating policy that affects customers. As an example from my own job, I set policy on things like software support terms, version upgrades, pricing, sales promotions, etc. In all of these, I consider the most important priority to be treating customers fairly, even if that means terms that are less desirable than, say, what our sales team desires. And by "fairly" I don't mean caving in to customers' every unreasonable demand. I mean that you always meet or exceed the fair and sensible expectations they have (or, preferably, that you've given them) as a result of buying your products. In other words, put yourself in their shoes and think, "What would I expect if I had paid the money for this product?"
  • The customer gets the benefit of reasonable doubt. This is a follow-on to treating customers fairly. When you find yourself having to make a decision on something, and there's some type of reasonable doubt as to who is right/wrong, whether the customer has been treated properly, etc., the customer should always get the benefit of that doubt. Err on that side, rather than on the side of saving money or whatever. Now, some customers are wholly unreasonable. I don't necessarily feel obligated to give them the benefit of that doubt, although sometimes I will anyway because there are bigger factors at play, which brings us to...
  • Focus on the big picture. You've seen it before: Some cashier or manager at a retail store will take a stand against a customer over some trivial thing worth a nominal amount of money. Sometimes the retailer is technically in the right, sometimes they're not. But if you have a customer who regularly spends way more than that amount of money at the store, you're an idiot if you dig in your heels on these types of things. Saving some trivial amount of money, or pride, at the expense of a repeat customer who is worth 100X that money in future sales is just plain dumb. 
  • Corporate policy must be subservient to the above rules. Too often, employees get so caught up in following corporate policy that they either forget, or are not empowered, to do the right thing for a customer. They'll shrug their shoulders, while saying "I'm sorry, but that's policy," as if that should be of some consolation. For companies that want to stay in business, customer service policy is put in place to treat all parties fairly. If your policy is actually an obstacle to that goal, then employees, or at least managers, should be empowered to violate the letter of the policy in order to ensure its spirit is followed.