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Divisive times dictate viewing customer service through a new lens

Customer service isn’t one-size-fits-all. While there are some policies that merit universal application, such as listening to and acting upon customer concerns in a caring and substantive way, preferences can vary considerably. What do companies do to best identify what most customers want and expect, understanding that not everyone will be happy?

In the words of 15th century English monk John Lydgate, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

Politics, race, COVID-19 best practices, and economic views are subject to divergent beliefs and biases. In these and further ways, our country is more polarized than ever. Given this emotionally charged environment, how can (and should) companies assess, address, and reconcile polar-opposite customer-service preferences?

The process of considering differing viewpoints can itself prove a fascinating study in customer service protocols moving forward. Ideas and input from all stakeholders—customers, employees, strategic partners, suppliers and anyone else integrally involved with the company’s operation—can be extremely useful in igniting customer service innovation in a new, uncharted world.

This is an area where surveys and open intra-company communication can be invaluable. Along the way, this can provide an outlet for those wanting to vent their frustrations (itself an important process) as well as offer constructive ideas that can bridge gaps. As part of encouraging open stakeholder discussions, this also can spur idea generation about creative new ways to accommodate opposing views and preferences.

In the case of Covid-19, it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever establish mask/social distancing-no mask/social distancing zones as was done decades ago with smoking/no smoking. However, we may find ways to accommodate a wider array of preferences in certain situations. This type of customer service evolution will have to progress along with both Mother Nature and knowledge of the disease. Right now, companies need to adhere to laws, regulations, and good common sense in making decisions about such critical issues as the pandemic—no matter what some customers may want.

For example, while Costco’s widely known mandatory mask policy obviously riles some, it is welcomed by most. In this case, given that it’s a documented health-protection issue, it should be universal, even if some people don’t like it. Costco’s policy is a notable example of considering the health of customers, employees, and suppliers in the mix. For most, it’s a very easy, simple step to help protect others from being infected. And it provides some protection for the wearer as well. Those unable or unwilling to do that simply need to make a different buying choice. A highly publicized report illustrates the point:

In this video, a Costco employee politely and firmly enforces the rules despite obvious customer service consequences with one customer. Along the way, he says, “‘Sir, have a great day. You are no longer welcome here in our warehouse…You need to leave. Thank you very much.’”

Sometimes tough love (or a firm order) will have to suffice in the name of the greater good.

All-in-all, this is an excellent time for companies to look at their customer service through the lens of COVID-19 and all its ramifications—then decide who and how they want to be. Necessity is often the mother of invention when it comes to evolving customer service policies. Once COVID-19 is fully understood, contained, and vaccinated against, more liberal rules, regs and best practices incorporating out-of-the-box ideas can bear fruit.

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Mark Lusky | 303.621.6136 | mark@marklusky.com

Veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience. Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage. Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm.

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