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(Zombie) Customer Service

I’m currently enjoying Delivering Happiness, the book by Tony Hsieh of Zappos.  In the book, his approach to customer service reminds me a lot of what Seth Godin wrote about in his book, Linchpin.  For those looking to map this to an activity in the PMBOK, I see this falling under Manage Stakeholder Expectations (Executing and Communications).

In any case, I can relate to my intent to communicate directly to people as people, not as mere customers, vendors, or colleagues.  Every day, I see people act as though they have no free will to make a decision.  They ignore what is right or wrong.  They act like they need permission to be honest and humble. They act like…wait for it…zombies!  Yes, zombies!

I recently sat in a meeting and heard how the vendor screwed up.  I’m talking completely-their-fault nobody-else-to-blame screwed up.  When confronted by the customer, their reaction was “I’m sorry you feel that way about [this].  I respect how you feel.”

My reaction?  [expletive] YOU, man! I don’t care if you respect how I feel or not.  And don’t try to feed me that Dr. Phil line about me owning my own feelings!  What I want to hear you say is “I’m sorry we screwed up.  I will do whatever I can to make this right.”

Another scenario that comes to mind was my wife contacting a credit card company about something.  The customer service rep was painfully unprepared to talk to a human being.  They could not deviate from a script one word without needed to talk to a supervisor.

Thank you for calling.  We appreciate your business.  Can we interest you in buying our credit protection plan? [my wife complaining] Oh, I’m sorry, can I put you on hold while I discuss this with my supervisor? [5 minutes later….click]

People, you want to provide great customer service?  Empower your customer service representatives.  Vendors, you want to provide great customer service? Empower your teams to admit when they screwed up and offer to fix it, not just cover it up.

I’ve always seen the best performance from my teams, when they knew what we needed to do but were not being told how they needed to do it.  I believed they would make the right choices for us all to reach our goals.  Those of you in the Agile community get this already.  Empower the team and communicate with everyone as much as possible.  Don’t just communicate.  Talk to them.

So, as I step down off my rant soapbox, I want you to take a look at the Zappos core values (listed below). They actually remind me of the 4 values, 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto or Agile community as a whole.

Zappos core values

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

If you had 10 core values for your project or team, how would you refine this list?

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About Derek Huether

I'm Vice President of ALM Platforms at LeadingAgile. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon). Novice angel investor.

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