How to Serve As Expert
It all started with a discussion with a start-up company about how customers assess the quality of the performance of a service skill they know nothing or little about. The particular performance happened to be an auto mechanic.
As patients, we are all gifted at ascertaining the excellence of the bedside manner of the physician who performs our surgery. But how do we gauge the quality of what the surgeon did “under the hood?” Obviously, not with the perspective a fellow performer might have--another surgeon can judge surgery quality with a lens unavailable to the customer on the receiving end of the scalpel. So, what are the signals “novice” customers can use to bolster confidence in the non-bedside manner part of any expert?
Chip recently had a tooth capped. The procedure went as smooth as newly polished enamel and he cheerfully wrote Dr. Lee a check for a grand. With the experience fresh in mind, we reflected on the features of that experience as we worked with our mechanic shop client. Dr. Lee established rapport filled with respect, narrated his procedure, spoke in “smart adult,” showed the “busted parts,” and created a pleasant ending. Whether it is a doctor, dentist, mechanic, or Mr. Stereo Wizard at the appliance store, serving from the position of expert requires special tactics.
Imagine looking in your rear view mirror and seeing the too-familiar flashing blue light. Glancing at your speedometer, you realize you are driving 15 mph over the well-posted speed limit. You pull over, remove your driver’s license and insurance card, hand over your documents and wait for the opening line from the police officer. But, what if the officer respectfully asks: “Mr. Jones, is there an emergency I should know about?” Instead of a tone of judgment you get a big helping of genuine concern. Even if there is a speeding ticket at the end of the encounter, your memory will be completely different than if the transaction had started with: “Mr. Jones, do you know how fast you were driving?”
Dr. Lee begins his dental wizardry by briefly reconnecting from the last visit, chit-chatting about non-dental topics, and then asking a few basic diagnostic dental questions. Most importantly, he does it all sitting eye-to-eye with his hands in his lap (not in your mouth). Despite his being north of sixty-five years old, he addresses his patients with “sir” and “mam.” More than simply a Southern tradition, he creates a respectful partnership, not a condescending patient-ship.
Dr. Lee narrates the dental procedure, sparing no detail in what he was does at each step and why. One gets the experience a new dental student might get, learning from a pro. “Lessons” reflect a passion for dentistry and an excitement about getting to work with his patient, not on his patient.
John recently had a close encounter of the outage kind. He called Georgia Power and within minutes got Greg, the master troubleman. Anxiety started to lift when the power expert exited his truck and stated: “I remember this house and those two great dogs!” Power and trust were restored when Greg analyzed the situation, detailed to John the electrical diagnosis and repair procedure, provided updates during restoration, and then briefed John on all the what’s and whys before boarding his truck to chase after other power outage demons. John and his family now speak of Greg as if he was their very own personal power expert.
We were on a Delta flight to Dallas. As we were ready to depart, the captain announced a mechanical problem in need of repair before push back. Attentive to the reaction of passengers when delays are involved, we watched their initial angry tenor plummet during the one-hour delay as the Captain came on the intercom every few minutes to provide a detailed update on the progress of the repair. We were fortunate to be sitting near the front of the plane. Every time a mechanic left the cockpit the pilot was immediately sharing his latest briefing with passengers. By the time the plane backed away from the gate, passengers were calm and peaceful.
Experts often love their technical jargon--especially the type that reminds everyone in earshot that they are indeed authorities. You sometimes get the sense all their self-esteem is wired to their wisdom and if it is shared others they will no longer be needed. Another version of smart-alecky are nurses who assume every patient is a deaf idiot! They rely on patronizing messaging (“Now, it is time to take our medicine”) and use overly familiar sugarcoated superlatives (“Sweetie,” on “Honey”) with false sincerity to entice their patient to cooperate.
Dr. Lee speaks in “smart adult.” He assumes the patient under his care is intelligent, and capable of following a semi-technical explanation of what is happening in the patient’s mouth. The airline pilot bolstered passenger confidence by using some aeronautics lingo we did not understand. The key is to let a respectful attitude permeate the interchange. If the expert server strips out all the jargon, customers might question his or her expertise. If the dialogue is all jargon, customers will doubt his or her interest in their understanding and learning.
John’s favorite auto mechanic always shows the damaged or malfunctioning parts after he meets John in the waiting room following car surgery. The practice does more than reinforce a trust-building perspective that only necessary work was performed. It demonstrates an allegiance to customer education and the growth of a fully-informed partner. Dr. Lee periodically pauses during a dental procedure to grab the hand mirror to let the patient observe the progress.
Direct Connection Computer Services in Dallas, TX, specializes in advanced computer networking and repair. Take a computer in for quick repair and you just might be invited back to the technicians’ work area. “Some of our customers are so emotionally attached to their laptops, they feel queasy watching the tech take them back.” says owner Fred Givhan. “We’ve even made it a practice with our more experienced customers of getting them involved in the repair process if they wish. Even if it’s holding a wrench for the tech, sometimes involvement helps allay their anxiety. Besides, they learn a lot about the internal workings of their computer if they get to observe the ‘surgery.’”
Great beginnings require the emotional book-end of a great ending. Product manufacturers are object-makers; service providers are memory-makers. And, the manner the service experience ends can be a key part of a pleasant memory. Dr. Lee always ends his “fix-something” procedure by sitting back down in a chair, summarizing his work, answering questions, and planning the next visit. There is typically a follow-up call the next day to make certain all is well…and, patient memories are still pleasant.
Order personalized award ribbons from the Award Company of America in Tuscaloosa, AL and your order comes with a thank you note that contains the words, “I am the machine operator who actually made your ribbons. I am very proud of my work. We want to give you personal service. If you are dissatisfied for any reason, please contact our customer service department. They will contact me and I will personally correct any problem. Thank you for your order. We look forward to receiving your next order.” If you order personalized items from StitchAmerica.com in Bremen, GA, you get an e-mail as soon as your order ship. But, here’s the best part. You get another e-mail indicating when your order arrived and who signed for it!
The future of customer service will be characterized in part by a stronger and more pervasive reliance on experts. The sheer complexity of work and life will make a “do-it-yourself” approach rarer. Service providers in the business of delivering expertise along with “bedside manner” will be tempted to tout their special competence by keeping customers in a dependent mode. Smart experts, however, will be those that embrace a partnership philosophy inviting the customer into a collaboration that enriches the service experience while professing the special proficiency.