Workplace Wisdom

Should You Fib for a Better Service Impression?

Sometimes service people say things that an astute customer knows are false. They act as if embroidering the truth enhances their self-image or their organization’s, while making the customer feel better and more cared for.

These are not material lies in which prices are changed and deliveries are incomplete. These are more like “little white” social lies. But burnishing the truth too much can backfire. Here’s a personal example from a couple of months ago.

After a transaction went wrong, I called the company to complain and was basically dismissed by an indifferent, couldn’t-have-cared-less rep. I was so aggravated — and there was so much content to dissect in the experience — that I blogged about it. A senior executive saw my blog and emailed me to promise follow-up and to get some necessary identifying information.

First Fib

I subsequently received a voicemail message from a very concerned-sounding rep, who claimed she was “just calling back to check” on what had happened. When I reached her, she said that the company had “noticed” that I had called in for service and that they often call customers back after service calls to make sure everything’s all right.

I was perfectly glad to have a pleasant person on the case, but it irked me that the help was coming under false pretenses, as if the company made a practice of rooting out bad service as a matter of procedure and pride. Certainly my original service call with the first rep had suggested a lack of both.

I thanked her for calling, and said that I assumed she was actually calling as a follow-up to the senior executive’s involvement. The rep agreed — without missing a beat and with no change in tone — that this was the case.

Follow-up Fib

She then explained that the company had had problems like mine in the past because of “difficulties with a third-party transaction system.” Her blaming tone disavowed any possibility that her company had responsibility for ensuring that its own transactions were accurate.

She confirmed that the original service rep had done a bad job of handling my situation, and implied that her own involvement was part of a standard internal procedure for ensuring quality. But that couldn’t be the normal methodology for two reasons: First, given the nature of the business, there wasn’t enough time for quality checks between service calls like mine and actual product usage; second, the rep had already concurred that her call had been triggered specifically by the senior executive’s intervention.

Overall Impression

Was she pleasant? Yes. On the level? No.

Perhaps I should have been happy — or at least satisfied — with the follow-up. After all, the rep understood the nature of my problem, researched it, and came up with a reasonable accommodation. But her fabrications left me with a negative impression.

The rep really wanted to make me happy, but not for my own sake. I think she wanted to feel that she was saving the day, and casting a rosier light on her company’s performance. She wanted to show that she was on my side and doing the right thing — but she did this mostly as a way of proving that she was a good person.

Why shouldn’t a rep dissemble a little to create a better service impression? Because the impression that lasts for the customer is that the rep was not on the level and that the company is not fully trustworthy — not that the rep or the company actually cared.

Onward and upward,

LK

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