Shep Hyken

By Shep Hyken

Don’t Let Common Sense Go Down with the Ship

Don’t Let Common Sense Go Down with the Ship 150 150 Shep Hyken

Do you have policies or rules that are so strict that makes it nearly impossible for your employees to deliver the kind of customer service you actually want them to deliver?
In situations like these, common sense needs to prevail – especially when it comes to customer service – but following common sense is not always common, as evidenced by the following example.

Recently, I was sitting on an airplane next to somebody who was headed for a cruise ship vacation. The two of us started a discussion about how some employees are so set in their ways that they can’t think of creative ways to solve a customer’s problem. These kinds of people are so tied to their “systems” and the way they have always done things that they can negatively impact the relationships they have with their customers, even when common sense should prevail.

My fellow passenger has been on numerous cruises – and as good the customer service is on most cruises, he said you can always find a few of the ship’s employees that are more focused following the system or the process rather than on satisfying their customer. He then shared a few stories from his past trip about how some crew members lacked common sense. For some reason, I began to think of the Titanic and the story of how the eight-member band on the ship continued to play, even after the ship started sinking.

I wasn’t sure if the story of the band playing while the ship was going down was actually true, so I did a little research. Well, I found out that the reason the band kept playing was that Wallace Hartley, the band’s leader, had asked the band to continue to play because he thought it would help to calm the chaos that was ensuing all around them.
Maybe that was true, but to create a customer service lesson, I’d like to take some creative license and bend this story a bit. My fictitious version of the story has nothing to do with keeping the passengers calm. In my version, Mr. Hartley says, “Keep playing. We still have two hours to go in our set.” Meanwhile, the other passengers had already vacated the ship to save themselves, so the only sounds on that could be heard on the ship were coming from the band’s instruments. Yet the band played on … as they went down with the ship.

The point to the story is that, if common sense had prevailed, Mr. Hartley’s band would have stopped playing immediately and tried to save themselves. Like the rest of the passengers, the band should have headed for the life rafts. But, sometimes people are trapped in a rut caused by following processes and systems for so long that they disregard common sense … even when the ship is going down.

So, what does this have to do with customer service? The best companies hire people who follow the rules, but who are also smart, adaptive, problem-solving, customer-focused people. When it comes to preserving relationships with customers, they look for ways to work around having to say NO and come up with ways to say YES. They don’t get stuck on company policy. Yes, they work within the rules, but they also understand flexibility. They will do what’s right for both the company and the customer. In short, they use common sense, especially when the ship is going down – or when a customer is angry.

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