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Cynthia Clark | March 29, 2012

Authenticity Is the Heart of Customer Service

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Have you ever stopped to think how many brands impact your life on a daily basis? Starting from your morning coffee, the transportation you use to get to work, your phone and the network that it operates on, all the items on your desk--the list goes on and on.

And when you have a problem with any one of the products and services that you use, you expect the company to be responsive when you contact it, listen to you, understand your situation, and try as best as it can to solve your issue. Even if it's a relatively small problem, you still expect the organization concerned to appreciate that to you it might be a considerable inconvenience.

Customers want authenticity from the brands they do business with. According to Robert Reiss, who chaired The Conference Board's Customer Experience Leadership Conference last week, authenticity is the first rule in customer experience.

This authenticity also means being treated like a person who has a problem and wants to have it solved as quickly and efficiently as possible. As Howard Behar, Starbucks International's retired president, said during last week's conference: "It's all about the people."

According to Behar, "customer" is an overused word. Instead, organizations should see the actual people. "Everything we do goes to serve human beings," he said. "It's a mistake not to see that."

Seeing the individual rather than the money he's spending with a company or his potential worth, is what distinguishes great service. Sodexo, for example, rewards its employees who go out of their way to positively impact the lives of patients or elderly people living in residential homes. Lynne Adame, the company's senior director of communications, said patients care about more than the actual medical care they're receiving; they also care about how they're treated by both medical and non-medical staff. "We can make a difference in a resident's life," she said. For example, by asking a patient when he wants his room cleaned or allowing him the option to choose the food he wants to eat and when he wants to eat it, the staff is giving that person some control over the situation.

And even a negative experience can be transformed into a positive, memorable one. Paul D'Alessandro, principal U.S. customer impact leader at PwC, said a person he knows whose flight was delayed for three hours didn't dwell on the fact that she and fellow passengers weren't allowed to disembark from the plane, but raved about how the flight attendants got pizza for everyone, turning the wait into a party. Rather than seeing the passengers as potentially disgruntled customers, the airline saw them as people who were hungry, and addressed their need. "Make lemonade out of lemons," he said.

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