Basic Anatomy of Customer Service

Primarily, I come at the world from a technology mindset.  Generally that is the hammer and I go about my life looking for nails to bash in.  I am quite a Neanderthal in that respect.  A chubby, hairless one…

Over the course of my career, through a painful evolutionary process, I have come to realize that many times, technology is not the answer.  Sometimes the answer is in the people- sharper focus, better training, clearer priorities, for example. Sometimes the answer is in the process- improved efficiency, reduced waste, defined needs.  Slowly I have become more of a “thinking man” in this respect.

So, as a man who professes to think, what does it mean to actually serve the customer?  Turns out, it has almost nothing to do with technology at all.  The way I see it almost all interactions should be variations on the following five stages:

1. Listen

2. Plan

3. Execute

4. Test

5. Communicate

I can hear some of my geeky brethren now:  “WHAT?!  There’s nothing about servers or MSPs or Twitter even listed in that!  How could it possibly be right.”  Allow me to break it down.

1. Listen

A much used quote is relevant here.

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

If you don’t know what problem you’re solving, it doesn’t really mater what you do next.  The only way you can find that out is…say it with me now…to LISTEN!

The customer doesn’t want to have to talk to their computer guy.  They can’t do their job and they have a boss to answer to, so they suck it up and make the call.  The LEAST you could do is actually listen to what they have to say.  I mean REALLY LISTEN.  I don’t just mean wait until they stop talking so that you can impart your great knowledge and wisdom to them.  They won’t use all the right words, of course, they may even say silly things like “the internet is down”.  (Really? The whole internet is down?  It’s the end of civilization as we know it!!)  The point is you must hear the customer first so that you will at a minimum know what they perceive the problem is.

2. Plan

This step can be as simple as hearing the problem, recognizing it and then fixing it.  Or it might be as complex as a multi-page write-up complete with diagrams and blueprints.  Whatever level is warranted, remember to keep the customer in the loop as to what your thoughts are and what your strategy will be to resolve the issue. 

The other critical piece of this stage is to fix in your mind what the perceived problem was (see above) and plan to address it with the same seriousness and attention to detail that you gave to the actual problem.  If you do not properly handle their concerns (right or wrong), even if you beat up their actual problem and take its lunch money, they will be left with the feeling that you didn’t do a good enough job.

3. Execute

This is where the rubber meets the road.  This is where you show your true mettle.  You can perform to your highest standards, paying attention to the smallest detail, following the plan and documenting what you do.  Or you can phone it in.  Ignore the details, leave the cables looking like a plate of spaghetti gone horribly wrong when you’re done.  Forget about the listening and planning you did in the first steps and let yourself get distracted by something that you weren’t even asked to look at.  Let the next guy document the thing.

What happens at this point is the price of admission, the minimum.  If you can’t get this step right, you shouldn’t even be playing the game.

4. Test

How do you know that step 4 is done and that you should wrap it up with step 5?  You test the original problem.  You see how this all comes together?  If you didn’t identify the problem right at the beginning or didn’t solve the right problem when you were executing, how can the customer EVER be satisfied?  Simple, they can’t.

You test the problem when you think it’s fixed, then have them test it and see if they agree.  If not, you have more work to do.  Why don’t they think it’s fixed?  Is there a perception problem?  This issue must be settled before moving on, or your customer will feel rushed and that you had “better things to do”.

5. Communicate

What more could there possibly be?  Aren’t we done yet?  Can’t we go hit the Denny’s for a Grand Slam?  Clearly not.  You must communicate several things to the customer.  Depending on the situation they could include:

  • Everything that you actually did
  • Anything they might expect to see or happen as a result of what you did
  • A detailed rundown of any further steps or actions that may need to happen
  • When those furthers steps will take place
  • Any helpful tips on preventing the issue in the future

If the customer is left wondering about any of these things, you’ve lost an opportunity to set yourself apart.


I’ve clothed all of this in techie garb (free vendor t-shirts and old jeans), but I think the general outline of it holds true for most customer service interchanges.  Think of a great experience you’ve had with some company.  (It took a few minutes didn’t it?)  Now run down the steps and see what they did or didn’t do.  Pretty close, eh?

Now think of a really bad experience.  (Yeah, you had one right off, I know…)  Which of the steps did they neglect?  Maybe they ignored your real problem and just tried to fit you into one of their existing “support channels”.  Maybe they did something for you, but didn’t explain and then just went away, leaving unsure as to what to expect next.

I think these things are widely applicable in almost any setting.  I’d love to hear what you think…