HBR: Kick-Ass Customer Service

An interesting write-up by HBR on what type of person excels in a customer service focused role. In a study of 1,440 customer service professionals, they found seven different personas: Accommodators, Competitors, Controllers, Empathizers, Hard Workers, Innovators, and Rocks.

Interestingly, they found that someone that fits the persona of a Controller excelled the most (lower handle time, higher customer satisfaction ratings). HBR defines a Controller as someone who is outspoken and opinionated; likes demonstrating expertise and directing the customer interaction.

Why do Controllers do better than their counterparts? Our structured interviews revealed that they are driven to deliver fast, easy service and are comfortable exerting their strong personalities in order to demonstrate their expertise. They describe themselves as “take charge” people who are more interested in building and following a plan than “going with the flow,” even in social situations. They’re confident decision makers, especially when nobody’s in charge, and they’re opinionated and vocal. As one Controller explained, “I like to take control of the situation and guide people.”

And as the problems reps deal with have become more complicated, Controllers have turned out to be the best problem solvers. Not only do they proactively diagnose customer issues, but they also consider the customer’s personality and the context of the call in order to customize a solution and present it effectively. Controllers focus less on asking customers what they’d like to do and more on telling them what they should do—the aim always being to get to the fastest and easiest resolution. The conversation feels decidedly human and off-script: Controllers tend to shun generic language and prescribed checklists, especially when their diagnosis suggests that customers have already invested significant time trying to resolve an issue on their own.

Consciously or not, Controllers deliver what information-saturated customers want (according to the research): clear guidance instead of excessive choice. In CEB’s customer contact practice, for example, we’ve found that 84% of customers would prefer a straightforward solution to their problem rather than a broad array of self-service channels (e-mail, chat, social media–based service, and so on).

The whole article is worth a read. It dives into hiring, training people to be controllers, and adopting a controller mindset at an organization level.

Reading this reminded me of Buffer cutting back on offering refunds.

In the end, empathy and accommodating a customer’s needs is necessary. But quickly coming to a solution is valued just as much if not more.