The expression, “The buck stops here” has served me well as a customer service professional. Made famous by President Harry S. Truman, it originated in the game of poker where a knife with a buckhorn handle was passed around to indicate whose turn it was to deal. Players who didn’t want to deal could “pass the buck” to the next person.
“The buck stops here” is an admission of ownership and responsibility to be the person to make a decision or solve a problem rather than passing it to someone else. Early in my career in customer service I wasn’t terribly good at this (and am still learning!). I was great at passing the buck, whether it be by doing the minimum or simply saying “I don’t know” in hopes that the customer would call back and speak with someone else. I was also good at losing my cool and leaving the customer no choice but to ask for my supervisor.
When I moved to a supervisor role, I became keenly aware of the fact that once a call escalated to me, there weren’t many other places it could go. I was stuck— for better or for worse. It was a take-ownership-of-this-customer-and-solve-their-problem-or-bust sort of thing. In these situations, attitude is everything. A negative attitude will most certainly make the entire experience more painful. A positive attitude, however can achieve great things and fuel personal growth for us and extreme loyalty from the customer.
Here are some things this “buck stops here” mindset requires:
1. Desire to Learn
It’s easy to pass the buck when we don’t know the answer and/or it requires too much effort to find the answer. Taking ownership of the customer’s issue is a commitment to solving a problem and often requires learning. In the book, Integrity Service, Ron Willingham says, “You’ll always be paid consistently with the size of the problems you solve. Solve small problems and you’ll receive small pay, but solve big problems and you’ll enjoy big pay.” The buck stops here mindset is a commitment to learning to solve problems.
2. Emotional Intelligence
When we take ownership of the challenge at hand we also have to step back and assess how we feel about the situation. In customer service, expecting the unexpected is required. Some days might go according to plan but most will contain multiple interruptions. Impatience is easy to come by when dealing with both internal and external customers.
Couple that with situations where we are faced with the uncertainty of a new challenge or the frustration that goes along with something not working properly and we have a recipe for an emotional workout. The buck stops here commits to harnessing those negative emotions and focussing on finding solutions.
Taking ownership of the situation means there’s no escape hatch. You can’t simply hang up the call or resolve the ticket and hope the issue and customer will go away. It’s a realization that you’re in it right there with the customer and there’s only one way out. That way out is when you connect the customer with the solution they are looking for.
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While I’ve cited my personal experience as a customer service leader, this article applies to folks at all levels in organizations. There are most certainly situations where a tier 2 or supervisor level simply has access to do more for the customer and an escalation is required. There are also those customers who refuse to speak with anyone less than the CEO of the company! Those will always exist.
Regardless of your level in your organization, there are many opportunities to embrace learning, corral those emotions, and take ownership of the situation until you solve the problem. In the event that you do have to escalate the issue to someone else, show genuine interest in how they resolved it. To expand on Ron Willingham’s quote, the more you prove you can solve small problems, the more you’ll be entrusted with the bigger ones.
Take “the buck stops here” out for a spin in your work and life. Put a Post-it on your monitor, make a t-shirt, or even get a tattoo to remind you to take ownership and let me know how it goes!
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