Recently my family decided to start a garden in our backyard with some friends of ours. Last fall we sat down and collectively decided what and how much we wanted to grow. Then, each family went on-line and researched the best places to buy the vegetables that we were interested in growing. We both decided that we would order most of our seeds and starter plants from a large national company, figuring that they would be the most reputable. So, when the time came, both of our families called and separately placed our orders.

One nice selling feature that drew us to this company is that they would ship us our starter plants at the time when it is appropriate for them to be planted in our area, which happens to be late May. This means that we wouldn’t have to keep the plants inside our house for three or four weeks, constantly moving them inside and outside depending on the weather, until it is time to put them in the ground.  This seems like a little thing but it can be harder than it sounds to keep plants alive for that amount of time.

You can imagine our surprise when all of our tomato plants showed up on our doorstep the first week of April, eight weeks early! We were confused to say the least.Immediately, my wife called our friends to tell them what had happened and found out that their tomato plants had arrived that day too.

After a brief discussion about what to do, both of them decided to call the company and explain to them the error that had obviously occurred.

My wife called the customer service number that was listed on the website and explained to the person that there was obviously a mix-up and that our tomato plants got shipped eight weeks early for our zone. The customer service representative (CSR) on the other end of the phone stated, as if reading from a paper, “Mam, we ship our plants on the date that is appropriate for your zone.”My wife was slightly confused but continued to explain to the person what zone we lived in and that according to their own website, we shouldn’t have gotten our plants for another eight weeks.The response that came back was, “Mam, we ship our plants on the date that is appropriate for your zone.” After much discussion back and forth with the same response coming from the CSR every time, my wife got frustrated and asked for a refund for our plants. The CSR agreed to refund our money. My wife hung up the phone completely frustrated and refusing to ever buy products from that company again.

Meanwhile, our friend called the same customer service line and talked with another CSR. She also explained the situation and described how there must have been an error in the ordering system because she wasn’t supposed to receive her tomatoes for another eight weeks. This CSR was immediately apologetic and asked what she could do to fix the situation. When our friend asked if she could just get tomatoes delivered at the appropriate time, the CSR arranged for her name to go to the top of the list of people to have plants delivered to in late May. Then the CSR continued and asked if there was anything else that she could do to make up for the error.  Our friend declined anything additional and hung up the phone completely satisfied.

Image the surprise when my wife called our friend later that day to discuss how her phone call went.The two conversations couldn’t have been more different.

Now this blog isn’t about buying tomatoes or whether or not to buy stuff from large national companies, it’s about true customer service. True customer service happens when you help a customer accomplish the task that they are trying to do. Both my wife and our friend were trying to get tomato plants delivered at the end of May. Only one of the two “customer service representatives” helped the customer on the other end of the phone accomplish that task.

Being a very large national corporation, I’m sure that this company has many processes and procedures in place to help their customer service representatives handle any number of different situations that may arise when the phone rings. For all I know, they may have even gone through one of those fancy initiatives where they brought in a high priced consulting company to help them standardize their work flows. Based on my wife’s experience, they obviously have a set of canned answers for some of the more common questions that they face. This is an obvious case where the company has implemented a set of tools that they perceive bring value just because they were implemented.The sad reality is that the tools didn’t work because they missed the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue is implementing a mindset, a way of thinking, not a bunch of tools.

Many people concentrate on using tools in a set order to produce an output that they desire. What they forget about, or never even think about, is how key the mindset is while utilizing the tools. The CSR that talked with our friend had a mindset of pleasing the customer. The tools utilized by that CSR were empathy, apology and making amends for a wrong doing. The CSR that talked with my wife had a mindset of using the tools. The tools utilized by that CSR were the process flow and work instructions that were standardized within the department.The later CSR never deviated from the paper that had the work instructions. That CSR read the “correct” response straight from the paper, just like she had been taught to do.

The sad reality is that on paper, in the eyes of the accounting department, the outcome of both conversations will look identical. Both conversations gave away the cost of one order of tomatoes. The monetary loss to the company looks identical. However, the real reality is that the company also lost one customer. That monetary value will not get captured on this year’s balance sheet, but itwill show up over time.

So what is the moral of this story? Focus on the mindset, not just the tools. That is the power of LEO.