The Power Of The Words “Of Course”

Over the years of my customer service journey, I always enjoyed being able to answer “Yes” to a guest question. First of all, no one likes being told “No”. “We’ll get to that in a moment.

But years back, as a manager at a Colorado cave and theme park, I dealt with a litany of both guest and employee issues over the course of the day. In some cases, I was being called to help a guest with a problem or question, but many times it was staff, many of whom were younger and shy around management. On my first week, I decided that when I arrived to deal with an issue, the first words out of my mouth were always” How can I help”. These are very disarming words that fit virtually any situation you are called upon in customer service, or with staff. They even make sense when you arrive with no information as to what the situation is about.  “How can I help” can open any customer situation positively. But I digress. This was supposed to be about the words “Of course”.

When these staff or guests asked me any question that could be answered with “Yes”, I used “Of course” most of the time. Why? What difference does it make? The power of the words “Of course” enthusiastically coming out of your mouth, says so many things. It emphatically says “Yes”, for starters, but it says it in a way that appears as though its important for you to help them, and you know it. It says that you are genuine, in that you are happy to assist. It conveys that you take your profession seriously.

There is a good, and not so good way to say anything, but these examples are paramount in customer communication. They create the safe space I have written about earlier, and help to create a welcome environment in your business. Taking the time to choose your words, and avoid the same customer service “pickup lines” we’ve heard for years, does wonders in creating a place your guests or clients want to be in, bringing them back to you, when they have so many choices.

Other examples may be things like choosing “I am afraid we are out of that item” instead of, “No, we don’t have that”. You may say “For an additional $_____, I can add that”, versus “That will cost more”.  Telling a client that something they want is not possible is much easier if you tell them in a way that conveys the benefits of the alternative to what they wanted. Never just say “NO”…….NEVER! In fact, make a game out of figuring out how say “no” without using the words. Take some time with your front line to talk about these words and the effect they have.

There are countless ways you can come up with to say the things you say every day. In a way that separates you from the pack, and makes it clear to your guests, that you truly do care about their purchase experience. Can you do it?  OF COURSE!

Can “AI” Replace Human Empathy?

We have been seeing a lot lately, in regards to AI and Chat GTP, and its potential effects on business, employment, and the future of dealing with consumers. There is a fair amount of speculation surrounding this, and depending on what business you re in, if it is not already a part of your life, it most likely will be in one way or another.

Widespread use of service kiosks has become popular, especially in higher volume fast food restaurants, airports, and transportation hubs. Some say it makes ordering easier, minimizes mistakes made by humans, and automates a once human process. Every day, we learn a new task that AI has either mastered, or streamlined considerably. Despite all of these reports, I not only believe there are aspects of customer service AI will not duplicate any time soon, I think there are roles that will never be replaced by a thinking, feeling human. And despite how much consumers say they like the automation, I believe a shift back to human interaction will enjoy a renaissance in the future. I also think that if you wish to be  part of this return to human interaction, make sure that you are known as a business that never gave up on that much needed business component. 

AI may be able to learn a lot, and very quickly, but can it master the art of empathy? Sure, it can simulate it, but when a customer knows they are not dealing with a real human, will it come across to them as sincere. I don’t see how it could. Reading another human’s, and responding to them are something, at least at the moment, only a living human can do.

This will remain the case as long as those of us who deal with humans, remind those humans with our actions, that a “bot” will never replace human compassion and understanding. However, to make sure that our customers realize that, we must never stop interacting with compassion, and in a way that reminds them that personal care is king, and no AI can accomplish what another understanding person can.

My Devil’s advocate friend proposed an interesting question, Which is worse? AI simulating caring, or a human who doesn’t care, and is “simulating” it to stay employed, or in some cases, not even trying? Tough one to answer, but I still lean towards AI being worse, while some already argue that, at least, a bot gets their order correct.

Most humans need contact. Community. It’s what keeps us human. AI is taking over a lot of tasks in the near future. There is little doubt about that. I believe those of us on the customer front lines have the responsibility to demonstrate how humans treat each other, so as human contact is minimized by automation, those rare human interactions are meaningful, kind, and produce the results both parties were hoping for.

Training your staff to use the filter of differentiating themselves from AI, in every customer, guest, or client encounter will assure you stand out in the world as someone who wishes to deal with humans. I believe that someday, soon, that will become more important that you can imagine.

Pretend Your’re In A Tourist Market, Even If You Are Not

I live in what is the definition of a resort market. Glenwood Springs, Colorado, on the Colorado River. With a theme park, world class skiing, whitewater rafting, and every other outdoor method of outdoor fun, it is a lively place, full of people being humans. The concept behind Dealing With Humans applies to virtually any business regularly dealing with customers, clients, guests, and the lot. But nowhere is it more apparent than in a high-end resort market, or ANY place people go to “escape”, for that matter. We will talk about that word in a moment.

People love to vacation, if they can. It is a luxury on one level or another, and humans bask in it. While I do believe people take vacations to escape their regular life, I believe that what humans like even more than that, is the ability to have needs met. Those needs consist of the both the superficial ones, like being catered to, and the ones they may, or may not, be aware of. Those are the ones we talk about in these columns. Those are the needs that we don’t feel we get fulfilled in everyday life, so we go somewhere to find them. They don’t have to be a vacation. They can be a spa weekend, a nice dinner, or other comfy indulgence. It is those instances that we can be at our best, and our worst, as customers.

When I worked in The Grand Canyon in my 20’s we used to joke that the tourists “left their brains at home”.  But that is not what happened. What some of them left at home, was their ability to manage how they handle getting their needs fulfilled. But, all of them came with the intention of feeling safe, happy, served, and having a sense of belonging. Remember, those are the things we are seeking daily, but having difficulty finding, due to our environments, and the circumstances surrounding everyday existence. They were operating with a different filter than when in their everyday environments. When I finally learned that, after dealing with thousands of them, dealing with humans became easier for me than it ever had before. And more fulfilling.

I also want to dispel the long-standing myth that wealthy people in a resort are harder to please. Listen.  Every demographic has a percentage of people that are difficult to make happy. After serving people on virtually every level of the socioeconomic spectrum, from Presidents to Teachers, Celebrities to Truck Drivers, I can tell you one thing. Affluent people, when dealt with professionally and respectfully, are probably the easiest demographic to consistently please. I repeat. When dealt with professionally and respectfully.

So, if you are someone dealing with humans in a resort environment, my hat is off to you. You have that extra daily challenge of making people with high expectations happy. For those of you who’s business is not related to tourism, learning what humans expect from their “vacations” can help you in giving them what they need. You don’t need to put a mint on the pillow, but you can elevate your customer service experience. Give them what they need, even when they aren’t on vacation. If you do, they will comeback. Trust me.

Let’s Talk About “Karen”

Today’s entry is about the closest thing to a “rant” that you will find on this blog, so far. In fairness, I said “so far”.  Here we go.

I am tired of Karen. No, I am not tired of challenging customers. I am tired of the lazy act of calling someone Karen, simply because they challenged you a bit.  Maybe it was too many questions. Maybe it was a perceived “attitude”. Maybe it was, in fact, a customer from hell. It doesn’t matter. STOP with the lazy “Karen” excuse for not effectively and lovingly dealing with humans.

There is no denying that some customers are never going to be happy, but guess what? That percentage is so infinitesimal that it’s time to stop lazily walking away, calling them “Karen” and not actually taking the time to see what they need as a human being in your establishment.

The “Karen” phenomenon has allowed us to be lazy in customer service. Rather than accepting the challenge of dealing with a human, we now just write it off to a “Karen”, and wait for our colleagues to give us sympathy, as though we just faced a mountain lion, or fought off a troll. Meanwhile, that customer who you didn’t even try to provide resolution continues their damaged behavior, perpetuating a cycle of anger on both sides of the interaction. Remember? I’m not calling them transactions anymore.

There are online publications dedicated to giving press to service workers with sob stories about challenging customers. On rare occasion the situation did, in fact, involve an especially unruly customer. But, in most cases, they were videos of customers being human beings like the rest of us. I think it’s time to stop encouraging people in customer service to return the energy the customer is giving them back to the customer. I know, that in my customer service history, the times I was most irritated with guests were usually when I was irritated with myself. We can often project our own situation onto the interaction we are having with a challenging client, and walk away from it giving them ALL the blame for the interaction.

I am not saying all of us in customer service do that. I am merely reminding everyone that we must take into consideration, our own humanity when dealing with another’s. Social media is beginning to reward service people for putting a “Karen” in their place. So much, so, that there are Social Media sites dedicated to it. I want to see sites dedicated to showing the world how you KINDLY and LOVINGLY resolved a challenging guest problem. We could all share our ideas on how we do it in our individual businesses. This my friends, is how customer service saves the world. Yes, it is a wildly idealistic concept. It’s also one that is possible.

So, lets give the poor women who just happened to be named “Karen” a break and, instead, challenge ourselves to break through to the humans who are just trying to get through life with their stories and emotions intact.

Stop Calling It A Transaction

When someone buys your product or service, no one can argue that it is a transaction. But what if you stopped calling it that, and called it an “interaction” instead? It’s still a transaction that is taking place, but when you look at it as a human interaction that also happens to BE a transaction, different things can happen.

What, you ask? Well, first, you are leveling the playing field that you and your customer are on. You come to the table with human needs, just like they do. And when you approach it that way, the entire situation becomes more genuine, and everyone is more likely to benefit from the interaction.

I don’t want to ruffle any feathers of the “business first” adopters.  You’re not necessarily putting the business aspect of the transaction on the backburner. If anything, you are putting your business first by recognizing the benefits of this approach. If we, as those in the business of taking care of customers, guests, and clients, see ourselves as the starting point in a kinder, more empathetic world, then that’s exactly what we can become. This is NOT an overly idealistic concept. In fact, it’s quite simple. That’s why it has so much potential. Look at every transaction as another opportunity to connect with another human being, on a human level, and you win. The customer wins, and we are one step closer to changing how we look at, and treat each other. You win, because you have yet another customer who does business with you because you make them feel relevant, safe, and fulfilled.

That, my friends is the utter backbone of the “Dealing With Humans” program. Instead of viewing yourself, or your business, as an inconsequential moment in your customer’s life, look at it as another moment that they can take away as a positive reminder of the human condition. Every time you face another guest, those moments can either be viewed as a mundane slice of time, or another chance to remind another human being of their importance and belonging.

This doesn’t mean I am asking you to try and change someone’s life next time they do business with you. Just be cognizant of opportunity when it presents itself. Opportunity to make that transaction a truly meaningful human interaction, as well. Soon, it will become second nature, especially if you are an empath, like myself. It can be accomplished by asking that “extra” question. Or by finding, or creating an opportunity to connect with the customer with some extra attention or energy. It can be as easy sending a smile that says “You are safe and welcome” the moment you make eye contact. If someone has chosen to do business with you, making them feel good about that decision in any way you can tells them that they matter. So, next time you are face to face, or even on the phone with a client or customer, view it as opportunity. An opportunity to share human empathy with someone, who just like yourself, needs that more than ever.  

Stay Human.

Is It Your Staffing, Or Your Staff?

I have taken a break from writing while deciding exactly what direction I wish to take this blog. But with the hottest topic in customer service right now being staffing, I want to chime in.

We have heard countless stories of terrible “post pandemic” service in every sector of our business. It seems to immediately become a conversation about poor staffing.   Listen. I don’t know you, or your business, so I don’t know what your customer service philosophy is but I ask you this. Are you willing to explore the reality that it is a not so much an issue with your staffing as it may be with your staff?

Yup. I said it. I have noticed a new climate where businesses are so desperate for staff, that they will not only lower their standards in hiring to get them, but will allow their staff to hold them hostage to those “new” standards.  It seems like it’s “survival versus service” right now, and we need to look at it from all sides. Some of us have played both roles in this scenario. As customers, we were so happy to get out with our friends and family after Covid, that we were willing to accept that service was going to be subpar at our favorite establishments. We kindly, as we should have, rolled with the punches of everyone getting back into the swing of things. As business owners and managers, we accepted it was the best we could do. But it now feels like the new normal, and it shouldn’t be. The staffing issue is a socioeconomic phenomenon I don’t have the solutions to. But as a 40+ year member of the customer service community, I know we have control of one thing, and that’s how we treat our customers and guests.

You can be understaffed, while maintaining a high level of customer service, as long as you have a mission to do so.  I work in a place that does it every day. Your staff must understand how to deal with humans in an understaffed environment. They will be more patient than you think when they understand the situation, and you will be remembered for your eloquence in handling your staffing situation. However, if you simply write it off to “Staffing”, you may be missing places your current frontline can become even better. Once again, why you are short staffed is none of my business, and I would never consult anyone as to how to find more people. But you can set standards among your staff today, that not only sets a protocol, but gives them some ownership, in a mission of great customer service.  Do this weekly, if not daily, when your environment allows it.

There has never been a better opportunity to absolutely shine in your service sector. Your frontline staff, with the right training, and some ownership of concept, can remind customers of how it “used to be”. Yeah, I am an old man talking about the old days of customer service, where a business took an interest in you, instead of simply taking your money. I believe a retail and personal service revolution is right around the corner, and those businesses that remember that they are “dealing with humans” will prosper from it.

What about me?

I have made some interesting observations this summer at the theme park I am a manager at.  You see, we have a gondola that takes you to the park from Glenwood Springs, Colorado, a place with varied weather conditions to say the least.  In the event the gondola closes for long periods of time, we offer bus service up and down a dirt road that comes up the back side of the mountain. On rare occasions, it is not safe to drive it, and we must notify guests that they must remain on the mountain until we can continue gondola service.

Now, I have a question for you. What do you think upsets most guests more? Being told they have to wait their turn for a bus pass, or being told that they must wait on the mountain until the gondola restarts?  The answer may surprise you.

When a guest wants a bus pass that they see someone else possesses, they are filled with questions.

“How do I obtain one?” “How did THAT guy get one?”                                                                                                    “Why doesn’t SHE have to wait?”

And many others. I have been told off so many times, I have lost count. But that’s OK. It’s what I do.  I used to think it was not getting something that made people say unkind things to me. I have come to learn that, in many cases, it is not that at all. It is not getting something someone else IS getting, and wondering why. That’s where human insecurity really comes out.

However, the moment I told a crowd that the rain had mad the road unsafe, and that everyone must remain on the mountain for the time being, they oddly acquiesced, and a sense of calm came over most of them. We turned it in to a party that became a memorable experience. (More on this, later). It’s strange, but that’s when I learned what makes humans more insecure. It was missing out on something someone else had. I would also see this when one guest witnessed me giving rain check tickets to a guest for one reason or another. They would then ask me for one, as well. Until they saw me give a rain check, they had been a satisfied guest. Suddenly they weren’t. I fond it fascinating, and to be honest, don’t really know what to tell you to with the info, other than pondering it when dealing with guests or building promotions for your business.

Be careful when creating new customer offers. They may make your current customers feel alienated, wondering why they were never offered what you are offering new customers. I have found the best way to explain it to them is that you were putting an offer out to increase your business, and if they feel slighted in any way, you would be happy to offer them something they feel is fair, but explain to them that you feel you have earned their business.

Human insecurity is very high right now. What can you do to help your clients feel more secure? It is worth some serious thought.

The Video Screen Over Your Customer’s Head

Here’s a great “what if” for you.  What if your guests and clients walked in with a video screen over their head, highlighting in some way, both good, and bad points in their life and worldly travels? What if you could see some things that made them the humans they are? Would you treat them differently? Would you treat them with either more, or in some cases, less compassion? It’s a big what if, I know, but it’s an important one in dealing with humans.

As I have said in previous posts, I am not here to imply a customer guest’s behavior is justified. But what if you had just a little insight in to why someone is anxious, or impatient, or extremely particular? You may take a step back before becoming upset with them, and formulate an understanding of their needs, even if just a vague one.

That person that wants everything “just right”? maybe they were raised with a ridiculous expectation of perfection. Or possibly they are in a place to make things how they want them for the FIRST TIME in their lives.  What about that client who seems kind of bossy about things? Maybe they spend most of their lives being told what to do by family, bosses, and neighbors, and want to savor a moment of making the rules. As difficult as it can be, taking two steps back and empathizing with what factors created this human who you are dealing with, can not only help you deal with them without losing your sanity, it satisfies an emotional need they may or may not have even known they had. This is why I have that corny slogan “Customer service can save the world”. Those of us in the business of dealing with humans can actually be part of their healing.  And in the end, you have another customer that feels safe and welcome doing business with you.

Some customers are more aware of their emotional deficiencies, and quite consciously attempt to have them filled at your business. They are a unique animal, and sometimes the most difficult to serve, but they should not be discounted simply because of their awareness of those needs. I believe they need you even more, and some will even openly appreciate your attempt to help them with those emotional needs. Some won’t. So rather than decide which ones need you for which reasons, it is best to just treat everyone as compassionately as you can.

It is not necessary for you to know the psychological makeup of your customers. I am not implying that. But if you know that there are things that made them who they are, it becomes easier to compassionately accommodate them. Unfortunately, some can’t be helped, but that should never stop you from trying. And when it comes to that person who is simply too damaged to treat you kindly, that becomes a completely different scenario which I will discuss in my next post, “When And How To Put Your Foot Down “. Until then, give them what they need.

Keep Moving Forward

Hello friends. I have taken quite a break from posting. It was intentional.

I felt that during the pandemic, elections, and daily challenges, we were all just trying to survive, and new information would not be absorbed and learned as it should during this time.

But, due to the stress I see in both the customers in my workplace and the people I encounter daily, I realized that it is time to remember why I started this mission in the first place. While those of us in the business of serving others in some way should not be responsible for the mental well being of the world, I think we can be a place of refuge for those who’s daily dealings do not bring them what they emotionally need.  And when the world does return to “normal”, whatever that means, we can welcome everyone back with open, loving arms and remind them of why doing business with you, and others like you, is not only practical, but makes them feel happy and good about themselves. 

I always believed in a future brick and mortar retail revolution. With Covid keeping us isolated from each other for so long, I now strongly believe this renaissance will appear sooner than I originally expected.  Amazon is not going anywhere, but I believe the movement to buy so many things online will diminish, even if only by modest margins, as people look for others to share the human experience with. And when it does, those of you who have learned what your customers and guests emotionally need will prosper beyond your expectations.

If you are fortunate enough to continue doing business right now, you can start solidifying your understanding of “dealing with humans” in real time. You can experiment with ways to make your customers feel safer, more secure, and welcome at your business. You can talk with your guests to find out things about them. You can train your staff to use their empathy when dealing with your customers. You can employ small changes in how and when you communicate with your clients. It is nuance. Making customers feel needed, welcome, and heard costs nothing but some time.

Right now, we are all just trying to stay afloat. Some businesses will not make it through the months ahead. Some already have folded. But it will get better, and every day you are in business is a day where you can be looking for new ways to employ simple human kindness, empathy, and connection in to your dealings with your customers. And the best things about it is that in most cases, in does not require capital. Only time and understanding of what people just like you need. People just like you.  

I believe that there will eventually be a large number of people looking not only for products, services and experiences, but also real human connection. They will search for things to make them feel whole, safe, and included. Will you be someone who gives them that?

Dealing With Formerly Quarentined Humans.

I have gone for quite some time without a post, not just because of being a bit overwhelmed where I work, but because I am watching an interesting societal phenomenon unfold, and I wanted to see it play out further before commenting.  Now it’s time.

I am beginning this with blatant self promotion. Go back and read all of the posts on this site, because human insecurity and need for relevance are showing themselves at levels many in the business of serving people would agree is alarmingly high. It is easy to quickly attribute it to the Covid outbreak, but I believe it to be more than that. I think the combination of the epidemic, staying at home consuming media at record rates, racial tensions, protests, politics, and more have brought out anger and insecurity that was already there, and current events were simply a signifigant enough catalyst to bring it to the surface.

So now what? It now becomes more important than ever, despite it being more difficult, to remind ourselves of what humans need, even the ones who can become irrational about needing it. They are often the ones who don’t now what they need, which is why we need to breathe, and give it to them. I hope that made sense.  I will however, reiterate that there will be a time, and a customer or guest that simply cannot be rationalized with, and must be dealt with accordingly. I don’t want to imply that you must tolerate everyone because “they are human”. But all of us on the front line need to remember it.

I work at a place that sees 1000-2000 guests a day, from everywhere in the world. Every day is not only a giant sociological experiment, it is a way to see how similar people can actually be in their ego, concerns, insecurities, and such. It is also a place to learn how to deal with them. So far this summer, however, it is often difficult to not just tell a guest what you are really thinking. I have to briefly meditate multiple times a day now, just to get through the situations I am required to resolve between humans. But that’s ok. That is what I am paid to do.

I also have to remind myself that we are often one of the first getaways for a family that has been stuck in a house together for three months. That in itself presents challenges.

All of us “front liners” have a challenging time ahead of us. I hear a lot about the financial impact of this pandemic we are experiencing, but not much about the emotional toll it is taking on all of us. To all of you out there dealing with humans every day, my hat is off to you.  Keep up the good work, and please share some of your stories with me. I would love to hear how you are dealing with humans.  My email is