Defining Customer Service: It's Obvious, Isn't It?

by Dr. Kevin Orieux in : Articles

Diagnosing Employee Disengagement in Customer Service

Here's a simple question: What is a CSR? Here's the simple answer: A CSR is a Customer Service Representative. Here's a simple follow up question: What is the purpose of a CSR? Here's the obvious answer: To serve a company's customers. That's pretty obvious. Or is it?

What if you decided to do a study to find out just how "obvious" it is to people employed as CSR's? What if, as part of your study, you asked CSR's the "obvious" question, namely, what is their primary function is on the job? The results would astound you (and not in a positive way).

Ararat Consulting asks these kinds of questions to the employees and CSR's for our clients because for over twenty years, part of Ararat Consulting's work has been to perform socio-economic research in the realm of employee mindsets, attitudes and work ethic. As it relates to our employee research, when we have asked employees questions where the answers should be "slam dunks" all too often the answers we've received are more like throwing the ball over the backboard. It makes you wonder if the employees are even playing the same game as the management team, because they are *not* playing from the same playbook.

The answers we have reported back to Senior Management and CEO's from their employees who serve on the "Front Line" as representatives of the company's image and reputation often result in the CEO or Senior Management saying something akin to:

"You've got to be kidding! They said THAT ???"


So maybe defining Customer Service is not as obvious as one might think, especially if you are one of the people in Senior Management.

If that's true, then it would be valuable to define what may not be quite so obvious. The term CSR refers to a "representative" of a company, whose job it is to engage with "customers" for the purpose of providing "service" to those customers. To paraphrase our definition, we could say that a Customer Service Representative is someone who's function at work is to be:

  1. actively communicating and participating in customer interactions
  2. with the goal of creating a satisfactory experience for the customer
  3. in a manner that establishes the reputation of the company in a good light corporately, and simultaneously reflects well on the CSR personally
  4. for the purpose of retaining customers and enhancing the potential for repeat sales

Once again, this may seem obvious. Except Ararat Consulting's research shows that less than 10% of employees have any focus on ensuring that customers have a "satisfactory" experience. Further, research shows that less than 8% of CSR's give any consideration to the manner by which they perform their CSR duties (where "manner" means their actions, communication style, attitudes and mindsets) and even less of those employees have ever considered that there is cause/effect relational sequalae of how their manner reflects on the company's reputation.

Ararat Consulting's research is supported by similar research by the Gallup Corporation. According to Gallup's ongoing research, approximately 85% of employees are not "engaged" at work. Yet the purpose of a CSR is to communicate and participate, in customer interactions, for the purpose of creating a satisfactory experience for the customer, and in the process, establishing a good impression in the customer's mind.

Now let's give some careful consideration to the following point: each bold and italicized word in the previous sentence is a verb.

Customer service, therefore, is an active process of interaction with purposeful goals in mind; namely, to serve the needs of the end user to the point that your CSR's have creating a sense of wellbeing in the hearts and minds of your customers. When a CSR accomplishes these goals then the end result is that your customers are satisfied with the actions of the CSR and become more likely to do more business with your company in the future.

But this will not happen, and cannot happen, if your CSR's are not engaged at their jobs.

According to the definition of "disengagement" we see this manifested in the behavior of those employed as a "CSR" who are not focused on the customer's needs, they are focused on their own needs. All of us have had experiences with CSR's when they act defensively, obstinately and even belligerently, simply because we (their customer) are voicing a valid concern. Yet CSR's don't look at the issue as a concern, they vilify the concern as a "complaint".

This is a problem, and the problem is rooted in dysfunctional thinking. In other words, psychologically, many CSR's have a disjoint in their thinking. They miss the whole point of the company employing people to be available to customers. CSR's fail to understand their job conceptually - that when customers take the time and energy to "voice" their concerns with a company's representative, that this is an indication that we are still willing to engage in doing business with the company, even when we are dissatisfied with that company's product or service.

Rather than vilifying a customer's concern, CSR's should be embracing the concern. As their customers, we are extending ourselves for "their" benefit because we are doing their company a favor - we are granting them the opportunity to resolve a concern so that the we, their customer, continues to have faith and trust in their company. When a company loses the bond of faith and trust with it's customer base, the company loses its reputation, loses market share, loses profits, and then employees lose their livelihood. This kind of socio-economic mathematics is lost on most CSR's, simply because they have not been taught this "simple math".

When Ararat Consulting does training programs, we teach workforces to think of every complaint as a gift. We help workforces to redefine their thinking such that every voiced concern be viewed as an opportunity to improve the company's product, service and most importantly, its reputation. We also teach workforces to embrace a new mindset about the manner in which they address complaints, because if complaint resolution is handled in an appropriate manner, it safeguards the security of everyone's paycheck as well as everyone's long term financial stability.

But when CSR's interpret customer concerns as attacks and when they take a complaint "personally" to the point that instead of interacting, they are reacting, then they default to a dysfunctional mindset whereby they are likely to "act out" in a manner that is defensive, obstinate and belligerent. This is an equation for failure, so all too often CSR's fail at the very purpose of their job, fail their customers and fail their company, thereby, they fail themselves. All because no one has taught them to change their thinking towards a more sustainable and functional purpose.

This is why Ararat Consulting entitles one of our corporate training sessions:

Customer Service - Isn't.

Because even if the purpose of being a Customer Service Representative is defined by the very words "customer" and "service" and "representative" the fact of the matter is, what "should" be obvious to every CSR...