Vulnerable Customer Service

Vulnerable Customer ServiceI am going to come right out and tell you this show is a bit different. It feels different to me anyway. Last week was a tough week. At the end of the week, we had to put our dog to sleep.

Bridger was a beautiful chocolate lab. He had been my best friend for the past 14 years. Since he is what I have been thinking about the past few days,I thought I would use an episode of The Jody Maberry Show to talk about what I learned from the situation.

Even though it was an awful event for me, I noticed how good the veterinary clinic was at delivering vulnerable customer service.

Upon arrival, they let me and Bridger go to a private room. I didn’t have to fill out paperwork in front of other people and it gave me more time with my dog.

Treated my situation as unique. They perform this process every week. The see individuals going through the sadness and distress of losing a dear family pet every week. But they treated me as an individual and my situation as unique. They understood I had not been through this situation before and it was difficult for me. The treated it as such, not like it was no big deal.

The doctor showed a human side. It was clear it was not a transaction. He asked questions about my dog. He told me stories about losing a dog himself. He made me feel like a human facing a difficult situation and he also showed he was human.

Everyone at the clinic made the transaction portion of my visit as minimal as possible. I only had to fill out the absolute necessary paperwork. Steps of the transaction were removed to make it as easy on me as possible. For example, they allowed me to pay shortly after I got there while my beautiful was still sitting at my side. Can you imagine standing in the lobby trying to pay after losing your pet? Taking care of the payment beforehand allowed me to exit the building quickly once it was all over.

They understood my needs even before I did. Since they see people in my situation often, they understand what customers going through this process need. There was Kleenex in the room. If they would have asked me when I got there if I needed Kleenex I would have said no. But I did indeed need Kleenex, and they knew it. There was already a box sitting quietly on the counter next to the chairs where customers sit. They also let me stay alone with my dog as long as wanted to when the process is over. As a business that makes money based on appointments and number of customers seen in a day, it could be tempting to move people in and out as quickly as possible. But they let me stay with my dog to say goodbye and grieve as long as I needed.

I will never forget the kindness and care shown by Pet Townsend. In fact, just today, I received a notecard in the mail from the vet clinic. All of the staff signed it and the doctor wrote a message to me. You don’t get caring service like that often. You can be sure I will recommend them and return if I get another dog.

But here is the thought I had about how great they treated me, why can’t we treat everyone like that? They treated me well when I was vulnerable, but every customer could be vulnerable, even if you do not serve them during situations where they are obviously vulnerable. If your customer is a dog owner who just lost his best friend of 14 years, it is obvious your customer is vulnerable. But consider the rest of my day. I was still sad when I went to the grocery store. I still felt lousy when my family went out for burgers and fries for dinner. I was vulnerable the rest of the day. The same is true for every one of your customers. Everyone you interact with has something going on you do not know about. I promise that is true.

So what would be different if you treat a customer’s situation as unique even if it is the 100th time you have seen it this month?

What if you eliminated unnecessary steps from a transaction so your customer could be on their way sooner?

What if you took the time to hear your customer’s story?

What if you treated a customer like the special person they are? Won’t it make the situation they are dealing with that you don’t know about a little better? Yes, of course. So why not do it? You can make the experience for your customers and staff a more positive one by implementing intuitive software developed by Gladly.

There is one more aspect of vulnerable customer service I want you to think about. There are times when a customer is in a situation where they have no alternative. You have all the power. Think of when you are not satisfied with a product but are not certain if you can get a refund. The power is with the company. Think of trying to accomplish anything with the cable company. They have all the power. When I was a park ranger, I often dealt with a customer where I had all the power. When someone broke a rule or even broke a law, the customer did not have many options and the power was in my hands. Usually, in these situations, the customer caused whatever happened. How do you handle it? Do you talk down to the customer? Do you tell the customer it is policy and you have no choice?

You know who comes to mind as one of the worst in handling these situations? Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith Show. Did you ever watch this show? I did not watch a single episode of The Andy Griffith Show until a couple years ago, but as you can imagine, I have heard Andy Griffith jokes most of my life with a last name like Maberry.

Anyway, Barney Fife was the deputy of the town of Mayberry. Barney could get carried away with law enforcement.

In one episode, Deputy Barney Fife arrested an elderly citizen, Emma, for jaywalking. When Sheriff Andy Taylor found out he explained that they never stop Emma for jaywalking and “we figure if she can save a step or two here and there, why, she will just be with us that much longer”.

Sheriff Taylor understood customer service.

Deputy Fife protested. He reasoned if Emma got away with her crime, people would soon be “jaywalking all over the place and disregarding Keep of the Grass signs” and soon Mayberry would turn into a regular Sin Town.

Unfortunately, many organizations take The Barney Fife approach. This is a missed opportunity. It ensures that the organization will not turn into a regular Sin Town, but what image does it leave with customers? Seth Godin points out that in the moment when you have the power, you will establish the way customers feel about your entire organization.

I think Sheriff Andy Taylor would agree with Seth Godin. If an organization works hard to provide a positive experience when the customer has no choice, the benefit of the doubt earned is worth more than it costs.

I will add to that and say if you work hard to provide a positive experience when your customer is vulnerable, the benefit of the doubt is worth more than it costs. Vulnerable could mean they are in a vulnerable situation like I was when I was with my dog at Pet Townsend. Or vulnerable could mean you have all the power and the customer has no choice.

Also, remember, at any point in the customer process, if you can save the customer a step or two here and there, as Andy Griffith suggested, they will be with you that much longer.

Which direction does your organization lean? Do you have the Deputy Barney Fife approach to fend off Sin Town? Or do you have the Sheriff Andy Taylor approach to making sure customers will be with you that much longer?

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Jody Maberry