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I was working with a client in St. Louis last week. They took the entire customer service team out for an excellent appreciation dinner. At that dinner, I told them my famous 1-ply toilet paper story and then we all shared experiences of good, bad, or indifferent service experiences.

What we all could agree on was that you never know what you’re going to get.

We’ve talked a lot about process creation around sales, marketing, and just about every other customer-facing area of the business. But one of the comments we’ve made before is that an area like customer service, for example, can get you deep into a rabbit hole if you’re trying to script the best response for every single customer situation.

We all know that no two situations are ever the same. They’re alike, but they’re not the same. That’s why, when we talk about the process it’s important to remember that you should only be giving them the highest level of detail required.

Here’s where most people get it so wrong, though–they think that just because no two situations are the same in the fine details, means that the situations aren’t alike. It’s why surgeons fought so hard against the idea that a checklist could have such a huge impact on their success rates. It’s why salespeople hate to follow a sales process.

This reluctance would make sense if the situations faced were truly unique in all important facets. Luckily for us, that’s not the case.

One of my favorite analogies for this is physics. We know that objects in free fall accelerate at 9.8 m/s squared in a vacuum. Of course, our planet isn’t in a vacuum. Does that mean that we shouldn’t use this rule of thumb to guess at the acceleration rate of objects? I mean–it might be 9.799999 in one case or 9.8000001 in another. Obviously, in these unique situations, your silly 9.8 m/s squared rule don’t apply, right?!?!?!

For most of us, the truth is that “close is good enough.” If our processes model reality relatively closely then the benefit we get from consistency is more important than the rare potential flash of brilliance that we may miss.

Let me put it another way–if I’m getting heart surgery, I want the surgeon following the damned checklist, regardless of whether he thinks he’s above it. I want this because I know that I’ve got a 37% better chance of living when he follows the damned checklist. Yes, a 37% chance of not dying getting your wisdom teeth removed.

So, from the heady topics of physics & medicine, let’s come back to sales & customer service scripting.

Here’s the single most important rule that we can give you on this topic: Don’t tell them exactly what words to use in the script, but instead say what you’re trying to accomplish and what acceptable variations look like.

Obviously, if you have incredibly specific language, then the level of detail required will include specific language, but the general point here is that we want our processes to give our people as much latitude as possible.

Similarly, in the sales process, we won’t tell them exactly what they have to write in follow-up emails, or exactly how to phrase the various terms of the deal, but we will insist that they send a follow-up email and that they send a deal sheet.

We insist that instead of instantly calling a prospect the moment a lead hits the corporate inbox that they spend five minutes of doing research. You’ve all had calls from sales guys who saw the lead and didn’t bother to check that you were in a different time zone, or spend five minutes learning about you.

In our upcoming book, Dealing with Difficult Customers, we address this in detail.

The book’s main thrust is that while there are often demanding and disagreeable customers, companies can create internal practices and policies that dramatically reduce both the number and intensity of negative customer experiences, ultimately ensuring the best experience possible for their customers.

Your Challenge For This Week:

Identify 5-7 of the most common difficult situations that you may face (from clients, bosses, stakeholders, suppliers, employees, etc.), and ensure that you have a few “best” responses to them.

Here are a few examples…

Example from our practice: When somebody tells us that they don’t have the time to review a proposal, for example, we will always respond by pointing out that everybody has the same 1440 minutes in a day, so what they’re really saying is that it’s not a priority. Sometimes that’s true, and we go on our merry way – other times the prospect realizes that they got in touch because solving their problem is the biggest priority they have, and we’re back on track.

If you’re in sales: Identify the seven most common “objections” that you run into with your clients, and the best way to handle them.

If you’re in customer service, identify the 5-7 most common complaints that your customers have, and ensure that you have the “best” answers for them and ready to go.

If you’re in HR, know the five areas that are most important to the candidates that you want (i.e., an opportunity for advancement, remote work capability, equity vesting, and total compensation), and be sure to be able to present how your company handles these in the most favorable light.