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Kindness Goes a Long Way in Customer-Provider Relationships

As published in the Lake Travis View, January, 2022.

Think about how many services you use on a daily basis. How often do you interact with the providers of those services? Do you look forward to those interactions? …Do you think the providers look forward to interacting with you? As a provider of water and wastewater services, we aim to build mutually-beneficial relationships with each of our customers. We know the value we provide and we want our customers to understand the impact on their daily lives of, not just our products and services, but the people who make them possible. Whether it’s an interaction with our customer service representative over the phone, a service technician at your home responding to your request, or a maintenance worker improving our distribution system, relationships are built overtime, with many ups and downs, but with a good-faith effort to understand each other’s promises and expectations.

We challenge you to start the new year with empathy and a renewed commitment to making a positive impact during every encounter you have with a service provider. A public display of this pledge may come in the form of signs of gratitude, adherence to regulations, or sharing feedback about your experience. During interactions with service providers, we encourage customers to make a concerted effort to:

  • Be proactive: Ask questions and share concerns as they come up rather than letting things fester.
  • Go to the source: Hearsay is powerful, yet often lacking full details.
  • Invest in upfront communication: Clearly and respectfully discuss your needs with the provider.
  • Be available: to answer questions, provide access, etc.
  • Be flexible: Assume your provider is doing their best to get to you as quickly as they can.
  • Stay on topic: Getting to know you or helping with other things that weren’t scheduled is great, if time allows.
  • Confirm your understanding: Before each interaction is complete, there should be an agreed understanding of what the service provider is responsible for and what is your responsibility.
  • Share your feedback: For better or worse, your service provider wants to hear about the results of your interaction with their team. Praise is always appreciated, as well as constructive criticism.

There are also many ways service providers can aid in developing positive relationships with their customers, such as:

  • Start on a first name basis: Make each interaction more personal than an anonymous service provider assisting an account number.
  • Put yourself in your customer’s shoes: Have a mindset to first understand your customer (by being attentive and asking questions), then seek to solve the customer’s relevant problem.
  • Articulate your expertise: Focus on what you can do exceptionally well and be transparent about what is outside your scope of work.
  • Be accountable: Everyone makes mistakes, but own up to yours and your teams; take proactive steps to quickly fix them.
  • Follow up: For longer projects, regular, detailed status updates help instill customer confidence. Anticipate questions, share your insights, and be easy to reach even after the work is complete.
  • Celebrate wins with customers: Recognize how your services bring value to their lives.
  • Learn and grow: Use what you learn from your experiences to provide even better service moving forward.

There’s no right way to script the perfect customer-provider interaction because each situation has unique needs. But, when we lead with kindness and understanding, whether it’s an interaction with a service provider, your spouse, a co-worker, or someone standing next to you at the checkout counter, the recipient is more likely to treat you well (and others they meet with throughout their day), too.

Written by Stephanie Threinen, public information liaison for the Lakeway Municipal Utility District (LMUD). Earl Foster is the general manager of LMUD.