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Is the Golden Rule Too Simplistic for Customer Service?

We all know the Golden Rule: treat others how we’d have them treat us. But its not that simple. Which us? The us who’s tired and doesn’t want to deal with other people, or the us who’s energized and chatty? And don’t we all want different things?

It’s true companies need to follow the Golden Rule, but they have to understand that it isn’t static. How we want to be treated can vary for each of us depending on mood, and it can vary between us regardless of mood.

Customer service today hinges on understanding each and every customer as an individual. It requires offering every communication channel, including the ones businesses didn’t really use a few years ago. (Looking at you, social media.) And it requires using technology like IVR in a way that brings companies closer to customers, not takes them farther away.

Accounting for Differences…and Moods

In his book There’s No Such Thing as Business Ethics: There’s Only One Rule for Making Decisions, motivational speaker John C. Maxwell says executives can solve a lot of their problems and avoid new ones by following the Golden Rule.

“It’s a very simple rule,” Maxwell told the New York Times. “You throw it out on the table, and anybody would say, ‘Yes, I would like to be treated as I would want to treat other people and vice versa.’”

But DePaul University professor of business ethics Laura P. Hartman says Maxwell’s assertion is too simplistic.

“Mr. Maxwell sounds like one of my students,” Hartman told the Times. “They want the one rule they can always apply and know that they can feel good about. It presumes that we all live by the same universal standards.”

But we don’t. Emory University professor of social ethics Jon P. Gunnemann says it’s hard to know how to treat others or even tell good from evil in many cases, because we’re all different. Going solely on the Golden Rule is “in brief, pretty shallow stuff,” according to Gunnemann.

“Does ‘do unto others’ mean no factory closings in older communities?” he asked the Times. “Abandoning all short-term thinking at the management level? Treating employees as having the same entitlements as shareholders, even though the law privileges the latter?”

Options and Personalized Technology

“All the interesting and important issues in ethics are in figuring out what the golden rule means in specific instances,” says Gunnemann.

So does ‘do unto others’ mean live agents for everyone? Automated voice for everyone? Social media for everyone? Or all of the above? It means all of the above.

Some people are anti-technology, as evidenced by the Discover commercial. However, more of us every day are turning to self-service technologies. Customer service has to account for both.

For one, there are our differences to consider. My mother is the farthest thing from a tech geek you could find—she’s a live agent person, exclusively. I’m a tech geek and definitely DIY—I’m an IVR person, almost exclusively.

For another, there are our moods to consider. In the morning, I personally don’t want to have a conversation with anyone; I’d rather use technology. In the afternoon—well, I’d still rather use technology because I’m a DIY kind of guy and a fan of self-service everything—but in the afternoon, I might talk to a live agent and be okay with it.

Regardless of whether I’m talking to an agent or using an automated system, however, I still expect personal service. And by personal I mean the agent/system knows who I am and my customer history, and they/it anticipates my needs.

An example is my credit card company’s IVR that puts bill pay as the first option in the call menu because that’s the only reason I ever call. It also remembers my bank account number so I don’t have to enter it again. It’s  a small thing, but it’s personal and I appreciate it.

“I see you’ve used this system before. We have a checking account ending in…”

Another example is a contact center’s system that does real-time customer satisfaction surveys and then uses that information to create personalized service going forward.

Maybe a customer calls in and, afterwards, takes a satisfaction survey. The customer had a great experience with one of the agents, which the system notes. The next time the customer calls, the system automatically routes them to the agent they liked the last time.

Golden Rule: Only A Starting Point

While the Golden Rule gives us a great starting point, it’s only the starting point. One service type or technology can’t account for everyone’s differences and moods. Organizations have to offer every kind of communication medium that’s out there.

They also have to adapt customer-facing technologies to customers. Which goes double for IVR, a technology with the potential to attract or repel customers depending on how companies implement it.

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