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What dogs teach us about customer service

The other night my dog Buster got stuck under the bed. He’s a largish hound mix with a barrel chest. He should not fit within the five inches of clearance between our floor and the bed. I don’t know how it happened; he didn’t know how it happened either.

I got out of bed while it was still dark, felt a cold nose on the back of my foot, turned the light on, and saw a sad dog head sticking out from under the frame. I got my wife up, we freed him, and he ran around the house for a while before settling back down on his totally comfy, non-scary dog bed.

I had so many questions.

Why did he get under the bed? How long had he been under there? Why didn’t he whine or make any noises to try and get us to help? We’ll never know for sure. The best answer we have is—he’s a dog. Dogs are weird, they don’t always make sense.

Customers too, sometimes.

Customers don't always make sense either

Customers get in trouble all the time. They don’t know how they got there. They don’t know how or when to get help. They don’t always understand that there are customer service people that know exactly how to get them out of their jam—how to lift the bed up and free them, so to speak. For every customer that reaches out, there’s many that just sit there, trapped. It’s frustrating. Those of us in support try to be proactive (hopefully), but we’ll never be able to find every customer at just the right time.

It did get me thinking—

Dogs are super anyone with peanut butter.

Buster, by all accounts, really likes me. I’d love to think he likes me as much as I love him. He follows me around; he’s sad when I’m gone. He would also really like you. Especially if you’re willing to fork over some belly-scratches or treats. I’d like to think I’m pretty important to him, but I bet two weeks in a new place and he’d be totally fine.

Customers are kind of the same. Loyalty lasts only as long as it's tested, and it can be tested at any time. That’s why as dog-owners, and customer-owners, we always have their best interest in mind. Customers want and expect you to be nice to them. They also expect you to resolve their problems quickly.

Dogs and humans don’t speak the same language.

“Buster! That’s just the UPS guy.”

“Buster! Other dogs are your friends, please stop freaking out so we can go for walks in peace.”

“Buster. Please stop doing this idiotic thing that continues to get you in trouble.”

While he seems clever enough, it would be so much easier for me if I could reason with the pup.

Most of the time, working in support, I’m technically speaking the same language as my customers. This does not make understanding each other a walk in the park. Language isn’t just vocabulary and grammar. It’s tone, word usage, and body language (tough over the phone, I know). Always remember that in support, you’re the insider. Your customer doesn’t understand how you do business, and they don’t really need to care. They just want you to help them; meet them on their own terms, and speak the language that they understand.

They just want you to help them; meet them on their own terms, and speak the language that they understand.

Dogs requires consistency.

I find that Buster wants to eat at the same time, nap on the same chair, and do business in the same place. He’s not really keen when we mess up his routine. He alerts me—with his patented head tilt—when the words coming out of my mouth don’t meet his expectations.

Just like customers.

If you do need to change things up—move the support page, alter customer service hours, or sunset a favored product—make sure it’s done with plenty of time, care, and communication. Make your thoughts and intentions as clear as you can to alleviate dissatisfied customers, and dog-eaten shoes.

Dogs like to cuddle. (Science be damned.)

I’m not suggesting that you cuddle your customers, but like Buster, customers expect an empathetic approach. Even though you may not immediately understand them, speak the same language, or appreciate how or why they got into their predicament, it’s worth trying to. And to be perfectly clear: Don’t cuddle your customers. Just be nice, and perhaps pat them on the head every so often.

Avi Warner is passionate about building beautifully simple customer support software. When he's not creating new experiences for support teams across the world, he's running around with his dog Buster or playing banjo in his backyard. Find him on Twitter @aviwarner.

Photo by Kait Miller Photography.