When I was a kid, I remember my dad always telling me to tell the truth. My parents weren’t the kind of parents who taught through punishment or scare tactics – they didn’t tell me a boogie man would come kidnap me in the night if I lied about finishing my homework. Rather, my parents were the matter of fact parents. My dad told me that people wouldn’t like it if I lied to them and that lying was being dishonest and untruthful. So what did I do? Well, I’m not going to say that I never lied because that, ironically, would be a lie. But I did take my parents’ word to heart and I was a pretty honest kid.
So what do parenting techniques have to do with customer service? Well, imagine I’m your parent right now and I’m telling you that, when it comes to your job of working with customers, there is one rule to live by: never, ever, lie.
I was catching up with a buddy recently who told me about a customer service agent at their company. This guy had been with the company for more than two years and was pretty senior when it came to the customer service team (note: this is a startup company, not a well established corporation). Having so much experience and knowledge, you would assume that this guy would be the defacto customer service stud of the office. New employees would learn from him, customers would love him, and execs would use him as an example of what their company embodies. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
It turns out, this customer service agent (who will remain nameless, let’s not start a witch hunt here) was lying to the customers. He would promise billing resolutions that he couldn’t deliver on, he would say the company provided services it didn’t, and he would tell customers the product did something it didn’t.
“Now Alex, this sounds like a tricky sales guy not a lying-through-his-teeth customer service agent. Is that the case?” To be honest, when my friend told me the story, that was my first reaction too. Maybe he was just upselling, maybe the customers completely misunderstood what he said, maybe he knew the product but was absolutely horrible at explaining it. Again, hopeful but not the case.
This agent was straight up lying to the customers. The reason how my friend knew? He had done it before. For example, about a year ago there was a customer who wanted a drastic price cut on the company’s most expensive product. This agent told the customer “of course we can!”, and then went to his higher ups and was immediately told an emphatic “no we can’t!”. Fast forward 10 months later: a different customer asked for a very similar price cut on the same product. So what did the agent say? Did he learn from his past experience? No, he told another lie, mislead another customer, and frustrated his company yet again.
“Well Alex, maybe he just forgot, cut the guy some slack.” That’s what I thought too, but not the case. Another example that my friend shared: a customer called in asking about email marketing campaign services. Although the company is a SaaS company, they don’t provide anything remotely near email marketing or management. So what did the agent tell the customer? “Yes, we provide that service, you can do everything with our product!” Wrong, wrong, doubly wrong. On top of all that, the customer called back a few days later, extremely excited about starting her email marketing, and had to be set straight by a different customer service agent. This agent, who had some sense in her brain, definitively told the customer that the company didn’t provide these services, apologized for the confusion, and gave the customer a recommendation for a different service.
Unfortunately for his company, this lying customer service agent is an idiot. Plain and simple and I’m sorry if that offends anyone. But he is. Why he’s lying to his customers, and why he’s lying about blatant features and pricing that can’t be changed and never will, I have no idea. And why this company has turned the other cheek and hasn’t fired him after several blunders and upset customers, I’ll never know. But lucky for us observers, we can learn something from his ineptitude.
Lesson of the day: Never lie to your customers. Ever.
Take a lesson from Pinocchio: lying never did anyone any good.
The biggest reason why you shouldn’t lie to your customers is because there’s no reason to do so. So what if your product doesn’t do everything they want? So what if you can’t change a customer’s monthly price? Do you think your customers would rather hear a lie than the truth? Definitely not.
All products have limitations and your product is no different. Additionally, no product will ever make every customer 100% happy. As much as we wish we could create that product, the very nature of human behavior makes doing so impossible. So instead of lying about what your product doesn’t do or can’t provide to your customers, own it and learn from it.
Customer service is one of the best ways to figure out how to improve your product. You have direct feedback from people who are using your product over and over again in their everyday lives. They’re not friends of friends, paid user testers or biased employees, they are the real deal. So take the opportunity and learn from them.
Your customer service team should know the limitations and issues of your product. They should also know why you haven’t added some features or why your system is designed and built the way it is (guaranteed, your engineers have a legitimate reason for building what they built). When customers bring up these issues, your customer service team should be able to answer the customer truthfully and offer either a reason or a potential resolution.
Customer: “Your service doesn’t collect my phone number and that’s horrible.”
Agent (option 1): “Yes, we’re aware that our service currently doesn’t collect phone numbers. The reason we don’t do this is because we contact our customers via email rather than over the phone. Since our customers use our app when they’re watching movies in theaters, we don’t want to disturb them or the other viewers with loud, annoying phone calls. So we send emails instead.”
Agent (option 2): “Yes, we’re aware that our service currently doesn’t collect phone numbers. Although we haven’t had a need for customers’ phone numbers in the past, we certainly understand why you’d want to provide it now. I’m happy to bring this feature request to the attention of my product team for future implementation. Thank you for your suggestion.”
Finally, if your product is lacking (which, I guarantee, it is to some customer out there), your customer service team should never set the precedence that lying is acceptable. You should never lie to your customers simply because, as my dad said, they won’t like you for it. As I’ve said before, the modern, online consumer gives their trust willingly and far too easily. They submit their billing information without a second thought and they share their name and email address as if it were a bad cold.
Amazingly, your customers trust you from the get go even when you haven’t done anything except send a welcome email and bill their credit card. So why would you diminish that trust or put it in jeopardy by lying? There is no good reason to do so. And that’s the honest truth.