Buttoning Up on Service

buttons-ANTHONY VALHOSI adore buttons. I like their smallness and their mystery. I like how they do so much for so little.

Once Upon a Time, a pearl-white button on a shirt decided he wanted to see the world, so he pulled and stretched, until ping! He was free. This made the shirt unhappy, prompting an email to the shirt maker:


Dear Sir or Madam: 

I have sad news… [tale of button mishap retold here.] 

Where may I find a replacement button so I may wear my shirt again? I’ve looked everywhere… 


- Tony


A beautiful reply from Nina in customer service came the next day:


My Dear Tony, 

I’m sorry to learn about your bad button experience. I appreciate very much feedback (both positive and negative) from our shirt lovers. 

The design of our button is patented and is therefore not available for order through button suppliers for replacement when one is lost. 

Tony, I imagine your shirt so sad hanging in the closet while other shirts are worn. I will be happy to supply you with new buttons to make your shirt happy again. Please let me have your address, and I will send them immediately. 




A few short days later, three sets of pearl-white buttons arrived beautifully packaged, all the way from Sweden. And the shirt and the buttons lived happily ever after.

*            *            *

Perhaps the most meaningful response to a customer complaint or piece of feedback is, “I care about you.” I care about you, so:

  • I’m sad that something went wrong for you.
  • I will make things right. Don’t worry.
  • I want you to be happy. What will it take…
  • Thank you.
  • What else can I do for you…

Some claim the best service is no service at all – that fixing problems before they occur is the way to create customer satisfaction, positive word of mouth and committed brand followers. I feel differently.

Buttons get lost, period. Best Service happens when you do these 10 things:

  1. Resolve the problem. When your customer has a problem and you fix it, she’s actually going to be even happier than if she never had a problem in the first place.
  2. Fix it another way: Come up with a way to prevent that particular problem from ever happening again.
  3. At the moment of truth, care immeasurably. The moment of truth is any interaction – a lost button (or luggage, or credit card), a delayed flight, a botched food order – when the customer is upset. At these common moments, you want to be up on your feet, listening to the customer, being truthful, making things right for her and gifting her. The cost of not caring is too great.
  4. Hire people who love to serve and who live for the moment of truth. Service is love in action. Recruit service people who are committed to responding in love beforehand – before the problem moment occurs. The commitment to love stays in charge of our words, opinions and thoughts, and results in the doing of good deeds at the moment of truth. Retain people who choose to see the best in a customer, and never choose to bring out the worst. You want people who go to workin order togive, people who at the moment of truth, ask themselves, “If I don’t take the time and trouble to care for this person, what will happen to her?” rather than, “If I stop to help her, what will happen to me?” Hire and treasure people who work harder on the customer’s behalf than the customer would be willing to work.
  5. Put away the script. Your customer wants your humanity, not your brand hype. Learn the company value statement well enough so you can communicate it. But really live it out loud through your caring deeds. When you’re being human and giving, the exact words you choose matter less.
  6. Memorize the phrases “I’m sorry.” and “It’s my fault.” Sometimes a simple apology is enough to make things right. Sometimes, simply taking the blame can turn a bad emotion around in seconds.
  7. Stop wanting to be right. Best service is not about who’s right, it’s about doing what’s right. The question service people need to ask is, “What needs to be done to fix the situation?” Fixing it begins with permitting the customer to believe she’s right.
  8. Keep no record of any wrongs. Because the customer is never wrong. If you believe she is, then one way or another she won’t be yours for very long.
  9. Connect. When the customer feels seen, heard, and valued … when she isn’t being criticized or judged … when she derives sustenance from her relationship with the service person … a human connection happens. This connection can transform even the most upset customers into loyal and committed brand followers. Empathy means everything. Feel with the customer’s sorrows and find pleasure in her joys, even small ones – because obviously, they’re not small to her. Don’t dishonor her by making her feel otherwise.
  10. Never forget what you, the service person, could do for someone. Companies invest a lot in engineering customer-relationship-management technology and self-service offerings. Most of these initiatives end in disappointment. Why? Because more technology doesn’t deliver better results – more humanity does. What’s regularly missing is the connection between the customer and the service person during everyday moments of truth.

If your company could only be famous for service in the way a button is famous, not because of anything technically spectacular you did, but because people in the organization never forgot what they could do for someone. If you cared immeasurably for someone who needed help … think how long the moment could last. Would she ever overlook your good work and the care you have shown her? Imagine the possibilities.

Anthony Vlahos

Anthony Vlahos

Tony Vlahos is the Chief Marketing Officer of ExecuNet. Since 2014, he has hosted the original web series ExecuNet Master Class. Tony interviews the world’s top business thinkers, writers, and leaders.

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