Customer Service and 4 Year Olds

I am on a family vacation with my in-laws. Along for the ride is a 4-year-old girl (I’ll call her Cyndi) who calls me “Uncle Jack.” Like any child at that age, she wears her emotions on her sleeve and can go from laughing to crying (and back) in a total of two seconds. When she is in a good mood, she is very sweet. When she decides everyone must focus on her, she’s a nightmare. Dealing with her mood swings, and trying to get her to do what we want, has not been easy.

Simultaneously, I am helping one of our clients implement a new customer service strategy. As part of this work, I am reading (and responding to) customer service complaints in an effort to really understand their business.

It dawned on me that dealing with customer service is much like dealing with the 4 year old, and much of how my in-laws are teaching me to deal with the youngest member of their family is also helping me deal with customers contacting my clients’ customer service center. If you are a parent, you are probably innately better at this than I am, and I am sure there are a few more rules you can add here.

Here are some of the basics that have helped me so far:

Have Empathy

Any of my in-laws will tell you this is my biggest problem. I simply lack the empathy, energy, and patience to deal with the needs of a 4 year old. While this is my own character flaw, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: try to see the world through their eyes and understand what is motivating them. Cyndi needs to feel validated, needs affection, and often doesn’t understand the world around her. Certainly, she doesn’t understand that her needs aren’t the most important ones to everyone else.

Customers, especially when something bad has happened to them, are the same way. When people get angry, their emotional sides tend to take over and their logical sides retreat. The first thing we need to do is show empathy: What if this happened to you? How would you feel?

While you understand how your company works internally, your customer doesn’t. Like Cyndi, your customer is unaware of the world of your company outside of her needs, or how she perceives you are treating her. It is your job to make sure the customer knows exactly how her complaint will be handled, what will be going on internally, and when she should expect a resolution.

Understand the Importance of Immediate Feedback

Patience is not something Cyndi has. She will yell for her mom repeatedly until her mom gives her the full attention she desires. (Her mom, by the way, deserves a medal in my book.)

There is nothing more frustrating than writing to customer service and not hearing back for days. An ISP we work with has amazing customer service. Within minutes of sending in a trouble ticket, they will write back with, “We are looking into this and will be in touch soon.” Even though the issue might take a long time to resolve, there is peace of mind knowing that someone has received the trouble ticket and help is on the way. So many customer service centers wait to contact the user until they have something to report. Don’t do that. Contact them immediately and tell them you are working on it. It doesn’t matter that you have nothing to report yet. Just letting them know that you are on the case is enough to start calming them down.

Praise Them

Watching the way the family treats Cyndi has been a really good experience for me, because sometimes I forget the value of positive feedback, especially in the cases of those who are emotionally vulnerable. Customers upset over something are as emotionally vulnerable as the 4 year old is, and need similar coddling.

For example, thanking someone for being patient (even if they aren’t being patient) will go a long way to make them actually be a little more patient with you. Telling them you greatly appreciate them helping you understand the problem so it doesn’t happen again to other people makes them feel like they are part of a larger solution. In effect, they are helping set an example for future cases.


Listen to your customers. Let them tell their stories. Make it very clear that you are interested in the details they want to offer. Engage them on a friendly basis. These are all ways to establish a respectful dialogue with your customer, which will result in a more positive customer experience for them, and better brand loyalty in the future.

One final note: I am not saying to talk down to your customers, as this is also not something you should do with a 4 year old. The tips I’ve presented here assume you are not “treating them like a child” in a belittling or didactic way.

These basic tips will go a long way to helping convert your customers from being angry (and emotional) to calm and logical. If we involve them in the process, respect their emotional needs, and generally treat them with respect, they will appreciate it.

Thoughts, comments? Leave them below.

Until next time…

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