The Broad Brush of Agile Customer Service

Before we talk about “customer service,” we must first define who a customer is.

Who is a Customer?

Agile individuals, agile organizations define their customer as anyone who depends on your work to do theirs. This may be an external customer, an internal customer, or your teammate in the next office. Anyone who depends on your work to do theirs is your customer.

This is deeper than it may initially appear. For example, if you are someone with subordinates (e.g., foreman, supervisor, manager, director, etc.), who are your customers — your personal customers, not your organization’s customers?

For example, if you are the manager of the production department that manufactures widgets, your customer is not the companies or people who buy the widgets. The companies and people that buy the widgets that your department manufactures are your department’s customers. You may indirectly affect the physical product; however, unless you, as a manager, actually, physically, lay hands on product, you have no direct effect on the quality of the product.

Agile Customer Service

With that definition of “customer” in mind, customer service, then, is not giving your customer whatever they want, however they want it, whenever they want it. That is indentured servitude.

We define agile customer service to be comprised of the following behaviors:

  • Listening — with the intent to understand.
  • Civility — treating others with civility, even when they may not be treating you in this manner.
  • Keeping your promise — honoring your commitments.
  • Managing expectations — a missed expectation has the same effect as a broken promise.
  • Not being duplicitous — not bad-mouthing someone behind their backs while sweet-talking them to their face.
  • Humility — apologizing if you blow any of the above.

Hopefully it is clear how these behaviors apply to an external customer, but they necessarily also apply to internal customers. For example, if you are in a management position, your staff members are your customers. And just like any other customer they can be the beneficiary of awesome customer service, or the victims of Twitter-worthy customer abuse. When one of your staff submits a new idea and proposal for your review and comment, and it sits in your inbox for days, or weeks, or months without attention, then that staff member was the victim of customer abuse.

You may recognize these six behaviors comprising good customer service from Stephen R. Covey’s, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” and you would be right. They are the six ways of making “deposits” in what Covey calls the “emotional bank account” — his metaphor for your level of trustworthiness. Conversely, the opposite behaviors — such as breaking a promise — represent a withdrawal from the emotional bank account. Over time, your emotional bank account with another person —another person’s trust in you — will either build up a positive balance or become overdrawn.

Are you interested in cultivating a more agile-driven approach to customer service in your organization and its management team?