The Customer Service Prime Directive

In recognition of this past weekend’s premiere of the latest entry in the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek: Into Darkness, I thought it might be fun to draw some comparison between Starfleet philosophy and customer service. Let’s just say it didn’t come as naturally as I’d hoped.

In the Star Trek universe, the most widely known tenet of exploration is Starfleet General Order #1. Referred to colloquially as The Prime Directive, this order essentially dictates that Starfleet personnel cannot intervene in the natural development of alien civilizations.

As you can see, there’s no real correlation to customer service. Oh well. Rather than drawing comparison, I’ve decided instead to identify The Customer Service Prime Directive.

Just as The Prime Directive is Starfleet’s guiding principle in interacting with other worlds, a space-age Golden Rule of sorts; there are also guiding principles in customer service. The contenders, described below, are all commonly recognized practices in providing exceptional customer service. The real question, however, is whether any one of them can be confidently described as The Customer Service Prime Directive.

The Contenders

The customer may not always be right, but he or she is the boss. By truly understanding customer needs, you can deliver what they need. When customers receive the product and service experience they expect, they’ll feel no need to prove you wrong. Most of the time anyway.

Listen intently. Try to understand what the customer says and what they want from you. Ask questions, look for context, and exercise empathy. Even if the solution is simple, a frustrated customer may just need to be heard.

Think on your feet. Be ready identify customer needs if you haven’t anticipated them. When customers are emotional rather than logical, attentive and timely service makes all the difference in the world.

All hail the king. Or queen. Your customers ARE important. Make them feel as though they are not only important, but appreciated. Think of them as royalty, while treating them like people. Use their names, apologize when you should, and always say thank you.

Teach, don’t sell. If you’re listening to your customer’s needs, you should have a very good idea as to which of your company’s products and service will best help solve the problem they’ve expressed. Arm them with facts. Help them understand how and why your solution is the right one for them.

Fail graciously. At times, our customers have valid complaints. When we fail, our customers are acutely aware. Be quick to apologize (sincerely) and offer a reasonable solution. A mistake, handled and corrected with grace, stands a good chance to result in loyalty.

The Final Destination

In truth, the elements of customer service described above are all aspects of an expanded definition of The Golden Rule—treat others as you would have them treat you. As people, we should really be mindful of this simple rule wherever we go.

To mirror Starfleet General Order #1, however, my version of The Customer Service Prime Directive goes something like this:

As careful listeners, knowledgeable advocates, and solution-minded thinkers, customer service personnel must provide powerful and effective service whenever needed to aid the natural development of positive customer relations.

In Conclusion

While I may have simply taken advantage of this forum to talk about one of my favorite science fiction franchises, it never hurts to consider the basics of great customer service in a different light. I’d like to think, upon considering my earlier points, Mr. Spock would see customer satisfaction as the logical outcome of adherence. If so, our customers and our businesses are certain to “live long and prosper.”


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