Customer Service and the Cattle Prod

By Leonard Buchholz

Cattle Prod Customer Service

This is the most frustrating of all Customer Service experiences for most of us. It is a combination of poorly trained personnel and terrible responses that cause us to believe that the only way we can get Customer Service from the organization we are dealing with is to use a cattle prod. (poke, zziittt)

Take a look at this example.


Me: “Excuse me; I was looking for a little help with a problem I am having with your organization regarding ______.”

Them: “I might be able to help you. What is your problem?”

Me: “I need help with the payment plan. I would like to know if there are alternative programs available.”

Them: “No, these are the only plans.”

Me: “What if these plans do not fit my circumstances?” (I feel obligated to take out my cattle prod and show it to him. He pays no attention to it at all, and I give him a slight poke, zziitt)

Them: “Sorry. These are the only options.” (He must not have felt my poke)

Me: “Is there someone else we could ask about alternatives?” (A bigger poke)

Them: “It’s not company policy.” (He definitely is not feeling anything at all)

Me: “I would really like to do business with your company. I am only asking for help in regards to this particular set of circumstances. Is there anything that YOU could do about this at all?” (POKE, slight smell of burning flesh is in the air)

Them: “No. As I said before, it’s against company policy. I am not authorized to change it.” (He thinks he is cattle prod resistant)

Me: “Is there someone else we can speak to?” (A lonnggerrr even bigger POKE! There is a discharge of sparks)

Them: “I’m afraid not.” (Now I know he definitely thinks he is poke resistant)

Me: “Then can you call your manager and ask him or her under what, if any circumstances there are that the company MIGHT change this policy?” (Now I am swinging my cattle prod around and poking it all over the place. Sparks are flying; I zap his nameplate on the counter. I feel like a Jedi knight or something)

Them: “I’ll call and ask, but I don’t think he/she will change their mind.” (NOW HE’S POKING ME! POKE, ZZIITT, OUCH)

Ever have a conversation like that? This scenario is a synopsis of a real event that happened. I have taken out all of the fluff and stuff. This incident started me thinking about the responses people use improperly in Customer Service.

Let’s take a look at where this encounter went awry.
It happened at the point where he said “Sorry. These are the only options.”
It actually was set up by his two previous responses, “…What is your problem?” and “No, these are the only plans.” Here is where most amateur Customer Service personnel make mistakes.
It might be that your company has only this plan, or there is only the one possible answer. Great. Present it in a way that answers the Customers concern and protects the Company.

Let’s see if we can change the responses slightly, and change the outcome.
Let’s take it from the top.

Me: “Excuse me; I was looking for a little help with a problem I am having with your organization regarding ______.”

Them: “I might be able to help you. What is your problem?” now becomes “Let’s see where the problem is. Can you tell me what you would like to do?” Notice the subtle difference in the language. “Let’s see” is a great way to include your Customer in not only defining the problem but also in helping to craft a solution. Asking “Can you tell me about the issue/problem/complaint so that I might understand it better?” or “Can you tell me what you would like to do?” or even something like “What is/are the nature/circumstances we are talking about?” would be better than “What is the problem?” or “What is your problem?”

“What is the problem” is direct and to the point. In some cases or some businesses this is acceptable. If this is you, wonderful!

However, I have to tell you that in many seminars I have people talk to me about situations that have happened to them. And even though it might be a “hard business” like farm tractor repair or heavy truck maintenance, people are people. We all like to be treated with a little respect and a point of view that includes US in the decision and the process.

So, before you start emailing me with “we don’t need no stinkin’ feelings” consider that you are a provider and the person in front of you has feelings, like it or not. Not acknowledging them or considering them is foolish and disrespectful.

Do you have a Customer Tree outside that you can just walk right out and pick another one if you don’t like this one? I don’t think so.
Don’t fight the reality, learn to work with it.

How about this one?

“Them: “It’s company policy” now becomes “There are procedures in place that may limit how much we can do about this. Let’s look at some alternatives to this and see if one of these might work.” Again, the Customer Service rep is stating the facts and offering an alternative without guaranteeing any results or a specific outcome. What the rep is doing is working with the restrictions in place while attempting to craft a solution.

Just saying the words “It’s company policy” is like putting a wall between you and that Customer without any doors. It may serve you well as a wall if that’s what you want.

If you want to have Customer Service people remember, you want to build bridges, not walls. (Works with employees too!)

Changing just two responses will change the outcome and guarantee that any Customer will return and use the service again and again. If you are not happy with your Customer Service results/outcomes you need to change the responses, not the Customer.

Maybe people will stop using a cattle prod on you. (zziitt, zziitt) Now won’t that be nice.

Leonard Buchholz leads seminars in Leadership, Management and Customer Service. This article is written with the hope that you do something with the thoughts and ideas presented here. Take action and make a difference. For more information about engaging Leonard check his website at – send him an email at [email protected] or call 760-529-5635. Be on the lookout for his ebook release in August 2008.

Leading Seminars in Leadership, Management and Customer Service since 2006.


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About the Author: Greg Meares

As a Sr. Consultant for Performance Connections, Inc., Greg's primary objective is to provide value to organizations that are focused on raising brand awareness. Additionally Greg works on improving the customer experience, through business process re-engineering, and call center best practices. Greg is an industry expert and is often called upon to provide his analysis and solution oriented approach to improving performance in the BPO and Call Center industry.

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