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Customer Service is Harder Than Programming


Programmers have it easy…

Customer service is harder than programming. Code is code. You have functions, classes, routines that are set. You can rely on them, they don’t change on you. You have the tools available and they do what you ask them to do, each and every time. It never changes.

Think about how easy it is to write code. You open an IDE, generate an application with a wizard, you type, you get all sorts of little auto-completion hints and wham! You can have a piece of working software pretty quickly in most cases.

-Michael Feathers, in Is Programming Too Easy?

Code is easy. Customers are hard.

Customer service isn’t as lucky as programming. It’s typically not a glamorous job, otherwise you wouldn’t there wouldn’t be programmers. Customer service has principles, rules, and best practices. But do those ALWAYS take care of the problem with the customer? No. We’re not that lucky. Coding is easy. Customers are hard.

Imagine that your code is finicky. It’s always changing, never constant. Imagine that your classes, functions and variables that change day-to-day. Imagine that you program a really sweet application, you’ve done an awesome job, spent hours, it’s perfect. The next day, it’s a mess, you have to do it all over again. And remember that thing about it never being constant? Yeah, you can’t program it the same way, because it doesn’t want to be done the same exact way. Welcome to customer service.

Customer Service is Harder Than Programming.

Customer service is a hard job. Customer service too often is just an entry-level job. But to organizations, that entry-level position means the world. When systems break, products fail, services fall short of customer expectation, it’s not the programmers phone that starts ringing. It’s customer service. 

When customers are disappointed or need help with a failed product or service, it’s the customer service professional that step in and fix the situation with customers. In customer service we can’t rely only on our principles, rules, and practices to be 100% effective at fixing the situation all of the time, customers usually can’t be just “fixed”, they are unique individuals with opinions and expectations that always differ. Yet as customer service professionals we usually take verbal beatings and then we go to work at making things right. And we’re asked to smile. When was the last time you smiled when someone reported a programming bug?

David Brooks once wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times where he mentions the complexities of dealing with people:

It requires the ability to trust people, …read intonations and moods, understand how the psychological pieces each person brings…can and cannot fit together. This skill set is not taught formally, but it is imparted through arduous experiences.

Running a successful organization is a team effort. Great customer service and being able to create great customer experiences is a key part of that. No one individual is better than the rest of the group. From the CEO, to programmers, to customer service professionals, down to the janitor (if you don’t think the janitor is important, think back on that really bad gas station bathroom you just HAD to use. Now think of that every day when you go to work), each member of the team is important.

If you liked this, be sure to check out the archives of all of my posts.

  • The Customer Service Management Coach is a customer service blog focused on leveraging technology for great customer service.

    Utilizing technology to improve customer service and the customer experience, we can create customer loyalty.

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