Customer Service Humility: A Skill that Serves You and Your Enterprise

You perhaps recall that we earlier discussed two foundational skills needed for awesome customer service. Today, we talk about one more. We call it “customer service humility.”

Customer service humility is exactly what it sounds like. It’s you taking a humble stance in your dealings with the world on behalf of your company or organization.

“Intend with every client interaction to serve up a victory for the client, not for you or your company,” says Valet customer service humility coach Eric Dye, “In order to serve up those victories, you need humility.”

“For example,” He continues, “If you don’t know the answer to a client’s question, be humble and say so. Don’t try to wing it. The desire to improvise an answer comes from pride. Pride is the opposite of humility.”

According to Eric, one of the best techniques for avoiding pride and demonstrating humility involves a simple word-choice.

“When you communicate with a client, speak in second-person voice,” he suggests. “Use the word we instead of I.”

To illustrate, Eric recommends you tell the complaining customer “We will take care of this for you.” He advises against saying, “I will take care of this for you.”

“The reason to say we in place of I is customer service is a team effort,” Eric explains. “It’s the support of other team members that makes what you do possible. So it takes humility to not want to grab all the credit for yourself.”

But you may find that a temptation hard to resist if your help makes the client go zowie.

An Exception to the Rule

Now, there is an exception to the second-person voice rule. Eric says never speak in second-person when owning up to a mistake.

“If an error was involved, use first-person voice,” he urges. “Whether you or someone else on the team made the mistake, use I instead of we.”

Eric indicates this technique allows you to take personal ownership of the misstep.

“Taking ownership of mistakes is really important in showing customer service humility,” he says. “Let me walk you through it. So, the client contacts customer service because he or she has a problem. The problem makes the client unhappy. An action you take to fix the problem turns out to be wrong. As a result, the client’s unhappiness increases. You instinctively want to deflect from the blame. So you say something along the lines of ‘Sorry, but we screwed up.’ The client hears you saying that the fault lies not just with you but with the entire company. Consequently, the brand takes a hit. Not good.”

On the other hand, saying “Sorry, but I screwed up” limits the client’s unhappiness to just you, Eric indicates.

“Even though you disappointed the client, this ownership of the problem offers hope,” he says. “If you can’t make things right for the client, at least there’s hope that someone else in the company can. The brand avoids taking a hit.

“But the ability to admit to mistakes in the first-person requires humility. A lot of humility, in fact. I know it’s painful to do, having done it enough times myself.”

Unhappy Client Made Happy Again

Want a painful example of Eric taking ownership of a mistake not his own?

Try this. Changes made to a client’s website ended up accidentally overwritten. Unfortunately, the changes weren’t yet backed up when the mistake occurred. So, all the changes had to be redone.

Naturally, the client wanted to smash some dishes and overturn the furniture.

“It fell to me to phone the client and explain what happened. I think this call was the hardest I ever made,” Eric recalls.

In offering the explanation along with the sincerest of apologies, Eric spoke in first-person voice.

“There wasn’t a solution to this problem other than to manually recreate all the changes that were erased,” he tells. “I think the client expected me to become defensive about that. Had I, it would have given him plenty of justification to take his business elsewhere.”

“But because I showed customer-service humility, his anger cooled. By personally taking the blame for the mistake, I cut off the oxygen to feed his fire.”

Customer Service Humility in Action

Another way that customer service excellence reveals itself: listening attentively.

“Great customer service is more than just offering great solutions,” says Eric. “It’s also about paying attention to what people tell you. Yes, clients want things fixed. But they also want you to hear them out and empathize with them.”

“This too requires humility on your part.”

As Eric puts it, customer service humility requires an investment. The investment comes in the form of time and effort on your part.

“Customer service humility is a learned skill,” he says. “You can’t learn it overnight and without trying hard. But once you learn it, it’s a skill that serves you and your company well for a lifetime.”

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