A Cinderella Story

(Warning: This article is about customer service. While reading the article, please avoid thinking about bad customer service situations. Instead, think about good customer service situations, and, I hope, notice that good service wasn’t enough to make a real difference.)

The True Story of Cinderella

We’ve all heard the story of Cinderella hundreds of times since childhood. But the story we’ve heard is not the real, true story of Cinderella. I’m going to share the true story of Cinderella with you and tell you where the traditional story is wrong.

The story we know describes Cinderella’s stepsisters as the “ugly stepsisters,” but they weren’t ugly at all. In fact, they were as pretty as Cinderella. The story also tells us that the stepsisters were rude, selfish and without poise. But this isn’t true. The stepsisters were actually very nice and extremely well-mannered. They were every bit as nice as Cinderella.

At the ball, Prince Charming’s first impression of Cinderalla wasn’t love at first sight. She walked in with her sisters (another fact left out of the traditional fairy tale), and the prince found all of them equally attractive. All three looked beautiful, and each greeted the Prince in a very courteous way. So, what led the Prince to choose Cinderella, and to quickly forget he had even met the sisters?

The stepsisters were very polite to the prince. But so were about 50 other would-be princesses who attended the ball that night. Being nice to the prince was no way to get noticed, since most everyone was doing it. Cinderella was nice and poised also, but what made her seem so special to the prince was that she was interesting, engaging and intelligent.

The lesson of the true story of Cinderella is that being nice is not enough. Lots of people are nice. If you want to stand out in a crowd, you need to go beyond nice and be interesting, engaging and intelligent.

Just like we’ve all heard an incorrect story of Cinderella, we’ve all heard an inaccurate story about customer service and how companies are able to win undying loyalty from their customers. This faulty story tells us that we can win customers just by providing exceptional customer service, because so many of our competitors provide bad customer service. But this isn’t true. Sure, there are companies who provide bad customer service (just like there were a few rude, crude guests at Prince Charming’s ball), but you can’t win a disproportionate share of your customer’s business just by giving good service. Enough of your competitors are providing good, basic customer service that it has become a commodity. It’s expected.

Good customer service is like being pretty and nice at Prince Charming’s ball. It will get you into the ball, but it won’t help you win the prince. In this competitive age, much more is needed.

So, what is this “much more” that is needed? What is it that goes beyond customer service and creates true loyalty from customers?

Our post-customer service age rewards companies that engage customers in a way that creates a unique relationship with that customer. These companies provide good customer service, of course, but they do more. They aren’t just nice, they are interesting, engaging and intelligent. They create unique “We” relationships with their customers.

I’ve written much about the fundamental building block of a strong We relationship: The relationship-building encounter.   The relationship-building encounter is the key to going beyond customer service.  For more on relationship-building encounters, see:

As explained in these other resources, a relationship-building encounter has three, critical elements:

  1. Engagement in the moment
  2. Conversation
  3. Uniqueness

If all three of these elements are present in a customer interaction, the relationship will be better at the end of the interaction than it was at the beginning. If even one element is missing, you will not have a relationship-building encounter. You will have a relationship-eroding transaction.

Don’t just teach your employees to be nice and to give good customer service. Teach employees to create relationship-building encounters, and build relationships with customers every time they have an interaction. Our experience at Yastrow & Company: Employees, of all job roles and levels, “get” the idea of relationship-building encounters, and are able to create them. The problem: Nobody (usually) talks to them about the critical role they play in building customer relationships.

Here’s a comparison of the fundamental role of an employee-customer interaction in the post-customer service age:

Customer Service Beyond Customer Service
What the employee does in a customer interaction: Serves Makes sure the relationship with the customer is better at the end of the interaction than it was at the beginning.
What the customer feels after the interaction: “I was served.” “I feel closer to this company.”
What the customer thinks of you: “Them” “We”

Focusing on service alone will put you in the same place as the stepsisters: In a quiet coach, heading home at midnight, without Prince Charming.

Here are a few things to think about as you think beyond customer service in this post-customer service age:

Take Notice

As a customer, how often do companies seem content to provide you with “just” good customer service?  How many companies go beyond basic, commoditized customer service and work, in every interaction, to build their relationship with you?

How do you compare?

After noticing how companies interact with you, as a customer, now compare how your company interacts with its customers.  Are you content with providing good service, or does your organization go beyond customer service and create relationship-building encounters with customers?

Try this

Read chapter 2 in my book, We: The Ideal Customer Relationship, which focuses on the steps to create a relationship-building encounter, or read my free ebook,Encounters.

Then, begin practicing using the elements of an encounter that you’ll learn about in these readings. As you interact with your customers, think consciously about going beyond good customer service and using each and every customer interaction as an opportunity to build a relationship with that customer.

Next, if it’s part of your job responsibility, change the way you talk with employees about interacting with customers. Help them see that customer service, while important, is not enough to make a lasting, sustainable difference. Teach them the elements of an encounter (remember, the ebook is free: give a copy to everyone in your company) and encourage them to see their jobs not as providing service for customers but as engaging with customers to build lasting, sustainable, unique relationships.

Steve Yastrow

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Posted in Customer Encounters, Newsletters, We relationships

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