customer relations customer service customer-centric empathy micro-differences person-centric personalised service service empathy service experience Oct 30, 2023
Person-centric or customer-centric in a customer service role

Welcome to Weekly Whisper #125.

Are you Customer-Centric or Person-Centric?

On a recent flight home from seeing my Mum in Edinburgh, I experienced a micro-difference with a big impact on how I was served as a customer.

For context - I arrived at Heathrow to find my flight back was severely delayed and highly likely that I would miss my connecting flight back to Sydney. Certainly not a life disaster given current world events but enough to have an impact on my state.

I had two separate and very different interactions with the airline reps at Heathrow.

Scenario 1:

As I approached the desk to enquire about my delayed flight, I’m greeted with a smile and “How can I help you, Sir?”.

“What’s happening with the delayed flight?” I ask.

Whilst rep was still smiling, “We’ve only just found out ourselves and we don’t know anything else”.

“What options do I have?” I asked.

“We’ve only just found out and as soon as I know more I’ll be sure to let you know, but at this point I can’t tell you anything.”

“What if I’ve got a connecting flight?” I pressed.

“As I said Sir, there’s nothing I can tell you at this point. When we know more you’ll be the first to know”.

To be clear, there was nothing inherently wrong with the response. The rep did their job and they were as polite, firm and informative as I’d expect given the situation. I didn’t really think anything of it until I enquired a second time about 20 mins later.

The second time I spoke with a different rep and here’s how Scenario 2 played out:

I can only assume the second rep was fielding many questions about the delayed flight, saw me coming with an ‘it sucks’ face and before I said anything asked “Hi, are you on the delayed flight?”.

“Yes” I said.

“It sucks doesn’t it” was the response.

“Yeh, particularly as I have a connecting flight home to Sydney” I continued.

(A visible sigh and no smiling) “And I’m guessing you have plans or people meeting you at the other end?”

“Yes” I said.

“And they’ll be disappointed too?”

“Yes” I said.

“OK, let me share with you what I know right now and what the next steps might be” (proceeds then to explain the situation as per scenario 1).

What struck me was that both scenarios were 30 seconds at best and both reps did their job. They both treated the customer as well as expected.

However, in the second scenario I felt like I was treated as a person with a unique and personalised situation whereas in the first it felt like I was treated as a customer.

It’s a micro-difference but I felt like the second rep took a moment to connect with me and my situation (which at the first point of interaction they knew nothing about). Yes, they took a guess and yes it might have been risky and out-with customer service protocol but I felt seen. It felt like the second rep ‘read the room’ and took a punt at trying to connect with me before offering whatever information they had or didn’t have.

In scenario 1 I felt an immediate disconnection whereas in Scenario 2 I felt an immediate connection.

In scenario 1 I was treated well as a customer but I Scenario 2 I was seen, heard and valued as ‘me’.

Of course, it’s a micro example and not a hugely important one. But it did get me wondering how often being customer-centric can land as sympathy whereas person-centric can land as empathy.

Being person-centric is all about connection - connection with the unique individual or group in front of you.

Take a punt and connect first - you never know but someone might write about you one day 😊

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