The Serenity In Customer Service: Understand What You Can Control & What You Can’t

Leadership Lesson: We may not be able to control all the factors in the environments of work, business, and life, but understanding what we can control and what we can’t will help us provide the best experience for those around us.

The best companies know success is about the experience the customer has, takes away, and tells others about.

Google introduced the world to, and continues to operate, a more clean, streamlined, and powerful search engine (among its other businesses).

Amazon is truly the epitome of one-stop shopping, streamlining the buying process by providing access to a seemingly infinite number of products, easy delivery and return policies, and an expanded portfolio of companies and services, each making customer access their top priority.

Apple, aside from it’s line of technology products, still reigns as king of the design and marketing game, enveloping their product in the façade of providing the ultimate user experience. The company is so good at vaulting that consumer experience as the masthead of its brand that most of its customers pay no mind to the fact that the technology makes only incremental advances in features.

And the bulk of the services and products these companies offer they didn’t even invent! There were other players in their industries before and alongside them providing those services and/or products.

These companies have just known how to stand apart, merely tweaking and upping the game by advancing the customer experience. Yes, their products are great, but their reputation goes beyond that.

They’ve specialized in the experience.

They understand that it’s not only what a customer gets in a transaction but how they feel and what they remember about it that matters most.

Here’s an example of why that’s so important, albeit on a smaller, local scale.

Recently, a restaurant near me closed its doors for good. I was a fan of the place. They had great food, enough room for a great crowd, outdoor patio space, room for live music, and a great beer tap selection.

But, regardless of how great that all sounds, out of my group of friends, I was the only one who ever brought the place up as an option for all of us to go out to and get together. Without fail, as soon as I mentioned the place, there would be laughter, groans, eye-rolling, and people backing out.

I knew why, though: The place was notorious for poor service.

Whether you were at a table inside, or outside on the patio, or even at the bar — AT THE BAR, where the servers literally couldn’t go two feet without looking you in the face — the service was in fact horrible.

My friends were right. I just happened to look past it because of everything else I liked. I sucked it up and kept going back. I knew the bar for the standard of quality was very low, so I factored that into my experience calculus and set my expectations accordingly to “dismal.”

As for why the place closed exactly, I have no idea. But the customer service (or lack thereof) probably didn’t help. Out of the few dozen times we went there in the last few years, rarely was there a time where service wasn’t slow, inattentative, or downright neglectful.

I never saw any urgency in the staff to make sure the customers were taken care of. You never saw the urgency that’s exemplified by great hospitality workers. Great servers see you as the end user, the ultimate stakeholder, and a means to their end (tips), not hassles that sit between them and end-of-shift.

Those with great customer service skills realize how much they impact the state and future of their organization. They are proactive, committed, and invested.

Related: To Move Forward, Answer This: Are You Taking The Proactive or Reactive Path In Life?

Typically, the most frustrating examples of poor customer service are those in which the provider of the product or service doesn’t address or take the most easy of steps — checking in on customers, asking how they are and if there’s anything else they need provided. Sure, there are things they can’t control, but they neglect even those they could easily and effortlessly address.

Customer Service 101: Failed.

So below are some thoughts on customer service. These can apply whether at the organizational level, based on experiences organizations deliver to their customers, like the examples above, or at the individual level – what you or anyone alone delivers and provides to others.

And one more thing. Hear me out on this, and I swear this isn’t about religion. This conversation demonstrates the main point of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

There are parallels between this prayer and the dynamics of customer service. Not everything in business, life, and work can be controlled. So we need to understand what we can control and what we can’t, and then reconcile the two so we know where to focus our energy correctly.

Keeping those three parts in mind, review the points under each of the three considerations below for your role as a provider.

What You Can’t Control

Here’s where you need to work toward that serenity by accepting the things you cannot change. Let’s be honest: You can’t control everything. And no one is (or should be) expecting complete 100% control on anyone’s part. Oftentimes, it’s not the lack of complete control that infuriates customers and clients but instead those simpler controllable steps that could be taken. So these items are not the most egregious issues when it comes to poor customer service.

You can’t (necessarily) control the result

Most people understand that the results for a customer are not going to always be what they expected, desired, or deserved, so they’ll get a defective product, or overcooked food, or computer glitches that have cost them money. You need to know and understand that there is a limit to what you can control. Things will happen that are out of the control of those working with the customer directly.

You can’t control a customer’s history with your company.

You can’t control the errors that came before you. There’s a good chance your organization had a history that pre-dates your arrival. So you can’t control what people think of the service, product, or customer service in the past. Again, it’s completely out of your control.

You can’t necessarily control their reaction

Think of this one especially for those answering help-line or customer service telephone calls. Someone is calling, irate about an issue they have with the company. But what’s happened has happened, and it can’t be changed. Regardless, the first exchange they have with you might be an awful diatribe about how much your company (and you by extension) suck. But you had nothing to do with that disappointment directly.

What You Can Control

Now, here’s where you need that courage (and initiative) to change the things you can. Although you can’t control everything, you are the face of the organization or establishment, so what can you do to diffuse the situation? What can you do to salvage the reputation of the organization and the experience of the customer or client?

You can influence their experience (not result) in the here and now

Once the result that has caused the customer’s disappointment has occurred, you need to take steps to make sure that the rest of the customer or client’s experience is worthwhile. You need to treat them right. You can’t start from the bottom, attitude-wise, from where they might have dragged the situation with their obvious disappointment. You need to make sure that you’re the epitome of what the organization can — and should — be.

You can demonstrate understanding of the situation

The biggest thing most people want when they feel let down and disappointed is acknowledgement. They want to feel (genuinely) heard. They don’t want to be patronized or dismissed. They want to know someone knows where they’re coming from. They’d like to feel vindicated in their charge that, yes, this is a bad situation. Anything short of that conveys a feeling of dismissal, neglect, and disrespect.

You can influence their path forward

Aside from what you can do in the here and now, you need to convey to them that the proper steps will be addressed to ensure to the best of your ability that nothing like this ever happens again.

Know The Difference

So, as with the Serenity Prayer, beyond what you can’t control and what you can control, in the third part you need to know the difference between the two.

You can’t try and fix everything. You can’t control everything. So don’t waste your precious energy, attention, and resources trying to do so. At the same time, you can’t throw your hands up and say, There’s nothing I can control, so it’s out of my hands.

People who are great in customer service know they have to find the right balance between trying to do too much, eventually not being able to deliver, and not taking the right steps to genuinely and authentically deal with the customer in the right way.


How do you pay attention to customer service in whatever you try to provide to people?

Related: In Your Environments, Be Sure To Consider Following The Golden Rule To Start

What you expect of customer service and the experience when you’re a stakeholder and patron in other businesses, services, etc. – how do you deliver that for others? How do you go above and beyond?

That restaurant I mentioned above had great pro’s to it, but all it needed was one major con to keep patrons away — horrible customer service.

What goes around comes around, so open the doors of your business and reputation with great customer service, or have them closed forever due to your blatant disregard.

The choice really is yours.



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