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Customer Service Is Risky Business

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THESE DAYS there is a giant connection between customer loyalty and risk management. To be clear, I’m not saying that your customers are literally dangerous (although in COVID masks, everyone looks pretty scary). I am just stating that the link is undeniable.

To be even clearer, this is not really about the risks for customer service providers. It’s about helping customers mitigate their own risks.

TRUTH = TRUST

Reducing your customers’ risks, putting them in a position to be safe, and giving them peace of mind creates long-term loyalty.

A few years ago, Volkswagen admitted it had not been exactly honest about its emissions and gas mileage data. At the time I was driving an Audi, a Volkswagen-owned car brand. Specifically, I had an R8 Audi Spyder—basically the car that resulted when Volkswagen, which owns Audi, bought Lamborghini and produced a
midlife-crisis-mobile. Anyway, concerned that VW’s lack of forthrightness might extend to Audi products as well, I took that Spyder in and asked what kind of gas mileage I was getting, because the owner’s manual said 18 miles per gallon in the city was possible. The very German mechanic laughed out loud and said, “Maybe eight miles per gallon!”

At that point, two things concerned me greatly: (1) I’d never seen a German person laugh; and (2) I was worried my next question about emissions would be even funnier!

HONESTY = LOYALTY

The mechanic rather honestly explained that I was basically driving a “200-mph environmental disaster area,” but since I put only 3,000 miles a year on the car, I was fine. And though he provided no solution, he did let me know that my risk of causing my own greenhouse effect was extremely low.

Oddly enough, Volkswagen’s emissions admission made me feel better, even if the company had to get caught to come clean. The Volkswagen CEO followed up his somewhat disturbingly gleeful “Ya, vee cheated” (yes, those are his actual words) with a very sincere explanation of the corrections being made, the $2 billion fine the corporation was paying for its wrongdoing, and a willingness to make up for it.

I felt Volkswagen/Audi reduced my future risks even though they technically caused them. They were willing to step in and do whatever they could; they even offered me an option to get out of the car deal with no financial loss. They removed my risk emotionally and financially. Ultimately, I kept the car and I’m still pro-Audi today. However, I did total that car in a wreck later, sparing the world from my poor driving habits more so than saving the planet from any real environmental damage.

The point: Customer loyalty is often the product of solving a problem, even if you created it. Helping people to reduce risk and live a safer life can dramatically improve and deepen customer relationships.

INTEGRITY = PROOF

People do business with people they like, and they like people they trust. They trust people who are looking out for their best interests. For example, it’s one thing to sell a customer an insurance policy, but offering tips on how to make sure a claim is paid develops a bond and a special relationship that creates everything from referrals to new opportunities.

We can talk about showing customers that we care. But when we start to reduce their risks, it’s proof that we care. Audi/Volkswagen proved to me that they had integrity. It’s important to understand that integrity is not just about doing what you said you were going to do; it’s also about cleaning up the mess caused by not doing what you said you would do. Customer service may be risky business because, as service providers, we are asking customers to put their hopes and often their dreams in our hands. However, it is our duty to make sure our customers are exposed to as little risk as possible. And if we do screw up, we have to go back in and make things right.

Just like that close friend or family member who made a mistake and then made it up to you, we can forever be known as the customers’ beloved screwup. If you can’t be perfect, be memorable!

Garrison Wynn is an Amazon bestselling , a nationally known keynote speaker, and a former Fortune 500 leader who helps organizations create a culture of influence.

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