Friday, August 12, 2011

Customer Service Sucker Punch: How Can I Help You?

Have you noticed that this phrase does not often mean what the average person might think it means.

It’s a deception, a feint, a sucker punch phrase wielded by customer service managers.

A sucker punch is an old boxing term. The fighter in the red trunks lowers his right hand thus leaving an opening. His opponent, the fighter in the blue trunks notices the opening and excitedly moves to take advantage of the opportunity. But Blue fails to notice Red’s cocked left hand. Blue ignores caution and springs forward for an expected easy win. But Red catches Blue with his ready left. Red destroys Blue who walked into the sucker punch.

Customer service managers seem to be using this same technique on their customers. Instead of helping customers they sucker punch them.

I recall the times that I have been approached recently and asked, “How can I help you?”

At the grocery store I explained the overcharge at the customer service desk. I explained the math on the precise refund that I expected. They had different math. One of them searched for the store manager. I waited while I noticed the two of them conversing for several minutes. When the store manager approached me she said, “How can I help you?”

Come on. She already knew. What else where they talking about? She did not help me. Instead she preached company policy. She even chastised me for not listening to her every word. She wasn’t there to help me. She was there to get rid of me. Why pretend that you are offering to help me? Why say such misguiding words?

We presented the coupon at the restaurant and the server refused to honor the terms. So we asked to speak to the manager. Several minutes later a grim looking man approached our table and stated, “How can I help you?”

You guessed it. He was not there to help us at all. He did not introduce himself or even try to be friendly. He also refused to honor the coupon for his franchise restaurant. He complained about the franchisor. He was never there to help us. Why did he open with that deceptive phrase?

I called about my cell phone account. After speaking with the first company representative I indicated that I was unhappy with his answer. He offered to connect me with someone else who could help me. I waited several minutes. Finally the second person came on the line and said, “How can I help you?”

I responded, “You already know what I want.” Her quick response was to tell me what she could not do and repeat company policy. She was less friendly than the first representative. Clearly she already knew what I wanted and did not need me to explain it again. Her responses to my questions were either, “I would not”, “I’m not allowed” or “I will not”. She didn’t help me because as she pointed out, “Nobody can.”

Why are customer service people asking, “How can I help you?” when they don’t mean it?

Perhaps the words have no meaning to them. They’ve been trained to parrot the words without understanding and internalizing the meaning. Like the service staff that say “Have a nice day” but say it without warmth or conviction. Maybe like the cashiers that say, “Did you find everything that you were looking for?” I once responded, “No” and proceeded to tell her what I was looking for. She looked at me as if I was a leper. She made no effort to help me. Instead she mumbled something about “maybe next time”. Of course, I’m now trained to ignore that question at that store. I mumble something in reply.

Maybe customer service people believe that they are actually helping the customer by stating company policy. Perhaps they believe that customers only complain because they aren’t aware of company policy. Once the customer knows the policy the customer will feel helped and enlightened. Hmm, not sure I want to smoke that drug.

Or those customer service managers have been encouraged to process customer complaints as bothersome fleas. They might be rated and promoted based on the lessening of official customer complaints. Head them off at the pass and they never become official complaints. Then, the answer to reduce official customer complaints is to work on your sucker punch.

“How can I help you?” Ha – ha! Got you sucker!

© George Torok is the co-author of Secrets of Power Marketing. His book is published in seven countries. To receive your free copy of “50 Power Marketing Ideas” visit To arrange a presentation for your team visit www.Torok or call 905-335-1997

Customer Service Sucker Punch: How Can I Help You?

More Customer Service Articles


No comments: