Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Jean-Louis Gassée’s Customer Service Kung-Fu

Jean-Louis Gassée on customer service:

A customer complaint dialogue is structured around a two-position toggle: a) it’s terrible, b) it’s nothing. The first one to grab a position forces the other person to assume the only one left. When Dear Customer calls, “Canon Law” dictates the first words out of my mouth: ‘This is terrible, how could we have let this happen to you!’. This forces the caller to concede: ‘Well, it’s not the end of the world, I just would like to…’ A cooperative conversation ensues.

However, if I argue that it isn’t the end of civilization, civility goes out the window. Dear Customer feels disrespected and insists things are awful. It’ll take time to lower the temperature and hear one another.

This is total customer service kung-fu. I’ve done it, and it works. Sometime all a complainer needs to hear is that you understand, and empathize with, their complaint. You can never convince them that their complaint isn’t important, and trying will only amplify the problem.


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Hi, I’m Derek. I make awesome community-centric web stuff. I sometimes post things to Flickr and Twitter. I’m mostly harmless. More.





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