Deon Barnard » customer service

By: Deon Barnard  11-11-2011

It can take days, weeks or months to reverse the effects of a negative or traumatic moment of truth in a customer’s mind. Things that can have an impact on the moment of truth are:

  • The upkeep of your premises
  • The air conditioning
  • The music / noise
  • A receptionists bearing and attitude
  • A salesperson’s genuineness and helpfulness
  • The personal interaction between staff
  • The first words spoken to the customer
  • Eye contact
  • A smile

The truth is that the average customer assesses all these things in an instant and unconsciously determines whether the company is worth their business or not. All too often a company has a worthy product or service but small and important ‘moment of truth’ factors are overlooked and customers are lost to the competition.

A great little acronym that should be pasted onto everyone’s desk pad, keyboard, notice board and coffee mug is E.P.R.

EPR is the CPR of customer service. Using this technique will resuscitate good customer relations and go a long way to ensuring positive moments of truth for the customer. EPR stands for Empathy, Procedure and Resolution. Let’s take a look at these concepts.

1. Empathy

Empathy is not sympathy. In the world of business it would not be very helpful to literally cry in sympathy of the customer’s dilemma. What customers want is someone who will listen, understand and take action on their behalf. Customers want to know that the person they’re dealing with is being sincere and honest with them. A customer wants to know that they have been heard and that their situation is thoroughly understood. Empathy is about being on their ‘side’ and looking out for their interests. I have seldom seen empathetic customer service in this country, most customer facing staff I have met are too busy protecting and defending themselves to be on the customer’s side or see anything from the customer’s perspective. “The system is slow today – it’s not my fault”. “It’s not my department – ask someone else.” “It’s not MY fault you didn’t check your documentation!” “Well you don’t have to get upset about it”. We cannot have empathy while we’re being defensive. Customer service is about the customer not you. Good ways to start empathetic communication are, “I understand” or “I see what you mean” or “I see you point”.

2. Procedure

Learn your ‘procedure manual’ in detail then pack it away and use your brain! It is critical that customer facing staff know exactly what the correct procedure is for all anticipated circumstances, and it is equally critical that when unforeseen circumstances arise, that they have enough general knowledge, skill and common sense to deal with anything. I have called call centers of large service providers and had an agent rattle off something like “Good day, my name is Joe Soap, how may I be of excellent service to you?” Then when I explain my situation I get silence… then, “please hold” and transferred to the agent sitting next to them. Yeah, truly excellent service there Joe! The problem is that Joe neither understands the services his company offers nor how to deal with tricky issues not covered by the rule book.

A classic example is cream soda floats. Huh? Yes, cream soda floats! Next time you go to a restaurant try and order a cream soda float. Last time I went somewhere and ordered this heavenly beverage I got a blank stare and the following conversation ensued:

“Uh… a cream soda?”

“No, a cream soda float.”



“Uh… I don’t think we have cream soda floats…”

“(sigh) Do you have cream soda?”


“Do you have ice cream?”


“So can I have a cream soda please!? Large.”

“Uh… can I just check something”…

At which point she hurries off to the kitchen to check with her manager if she can take a cream soda float order. She probably gets a slap across the head from her slightly less retarded manager and scurries back to say that they do in fact have cream sodas. What was the problem? You guessed it – it wasn’t on the menu (AKA procedure manual). The issue was the waitress didn’t know what to charge for it, and she would rather bring me something I didn’t want than apply her mind to adding the cost of the cream soda to the cost of a scoop of ice cream. This is the kind of customer service I get on a daily basis. I want to scream and jump up and down and put them all in a training room to sort their brains out!

3. Resolution

The ultimate goal of customer service is to resolve the customer. Not necessarily the problem, but the customer himself (or herself). Sometimes you can resolve the customer by resolving their particular request or problem and sometimes you have to adjust the need, expectation or problem because the customer actually needs something else – they just don’t know it yet. Often a customer knows that they’re frustrated or exasperated but are not sure what particular service or product will meet the need. It is the job of the customer service agent to deal with the emotional need first and then help the customer identify the solution. Sometimes the solution is not something your company can provide, in which case pointing the customer in the right direction is resolving them. Every customer should be a fresh case of, “how can I resolve you?”

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