Dark Karma
Pothole on the Path to Brilliant Services
by James "Alex" Alexander
Just like putting on an improvisation skit at a comedy club, the requirements for “delivering on the promise” are remarkably easy to explain but remarkably challenging to consistently perform well. As every service provider knows, there are lots of things that can make meeting customers’ performance expectations a challenge. One of these possible potholes on the path to perfect performance is "dark karma."

Even with the best of planning, dark karma can take its toll on the services pro. See if you can relate to any of these situations:

  • You forgot your clearance badge, and the Department of Defense security not only won’t let you into the computer center, but they have confiscated your briefcase and your phone and have locked you in a small glass room while they do a background check. As you thumb through the December 1988 issue of Reader’s Digest, you are struck by déjà vu—the room reminds you exactly of the emigration detention room in which you were once held at the Kazakhstan airport; that trip did not turn out well.
  • Filling in for a sick colleague, you are dispatched to fix a product you know nothing about. Ziggy, the product specialist, has told you, “No worries.” He has promised to talk you through the procedure over the phone. After assuring the anxious customer that all will be well soon, you dial Ziggy’s personal number on your smartphone. You hear a stressed voice message stating that Ziggy is on his way to emergency dental surgery and will be out of commission for the next two days. You ask for directions to the restroom and look around for an escape path.
  • Yesterday, in a fit of anger, the new vice president fired all six engineers from product support. Being really technically strong and a good team player, you and one other colleague volunteered to man the support phones. You feel good about it because out of the company’s eight product lines, you are very knowledgeable about four of them, and competent in three. You are only weak in the old Alogen line, but no customers still use it…do they? The first four calls you pick up are about Alogen problems, and one is severe. Your colleague knows nothing either, and you can’t find anything in your online knowledge management system. Putting your ranting customer on hold, you grab a bottle of Tylenol as you head down the stairway to the basement hoping to find some hardcopy documents that can help fix the problem.
  • You are physically exhausted from being up for the past three nights nursing two sick babies, and your mind goes totally blank in a customer meeting when you are asked a very simple question. You simply cannot function. You mumble an apology and leave the room while trying to remember if that cot in the storage room is still there and who has the key.
  • While on your way to your customer’s site, you realize with horror that his office is located in a neighborhood that even RoboCop would be afraid to patrol. Not knowing what to do and fearing for your life, you keep driving until you find yourself at the Mexican border. Here your van is waved over and searched by grim-looking men dressed in khaki green with automatic weapons (you hope that they really are the Federales). While you watch them tear out your backseat, you try to conjure up your meager Spanish: “Lo siento, señor. No entiendo nada.”
  • You are in your home office awaiting an important conference call when you hear the dishwasher running. Proud of your four-year-old son for proactively cleaning up, you go to praise the young man. Looking through the glass window of the dishwasher, utter horror grasps your throat as you discover your company iPad is now in the rinse cycle. Of course, the only place the critical information you need for the impending call is on that very clean, very shiny iPad.
Being a brilliant services pro is not for woosies!
This article was adapted from The Brilliant Service Professional: Building Trust, Creating Value, Having Fun, by James “Alex” Alexander, and can be purchased on Amazon.com or the Alexander Consulting website.
James "Alex" Alexander is founder of Alexander Consulting, a management consultancy that helps product companies build brilliant service businesses. Contact him at 239-671-0740 or alex@alexanderstrategists.com.
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