Growing up, my family lived in rural suburbia, an area with horse trails instead of sidewalks and the earthy smell of dairy cows in the air. We had a pet emu, called Emu.
Emu lived in the back corner of our yard, beside the chicken coop, fenced in with a shoulder-height chain-link fence and a make-shift gate secured by a pretty flimsy piece of wire. Emu spent most of her day snapping at the air, head tilted to one side, as if she was very confused.
One day, there was a big commotion in the back yard. The chicken coop was in a frenzy, all squawking and flying feathers. My mother ran outside, slamming the screen door, screaming to my sister and I, “Emu’s escaped! She’s running through the neighborhood!”
Scene from a movie? No. Story of my childhood? Yes.
Emu had somehow scaled the fence and was in our neighbors’ yard. The not-so friendly neighbors. My mother was pounding on their door, asking to be let into their yard. But when they finally allowed her back there, Emu took one look at my mom and hopped the fence into yet another neighboring yard. This went on for a while, Emu high tailing it from neighbor to neighbor until we finally caught up with her. We raised our backyard fence and replaced the wire on the gate with a lock. Emu went back to cocking her head and biting at the air.
What does a story about my emu have to do with you running your business?
Well, when it comes to customer service, there is always an emu to contend with—that special customer who requires extra care and attention to make sure things don’t go awry.
Because if you’re not prepared, your emu may well escape and run a bit amok. Your emu may be quiet and unassuming, and you may seldom hear from them. Until that moment when all you-know-what breaks loose, and you’re running after them, trying to catch up and fix an unfortunate situation.
Three Tips for Working with Your Emu
1. Get to Know the Emu
Emus can jump high and run fast—you may not know this if you don’t read up about them! Get to know your customers, learn why they need your product or service, and how you can serve them best.
2. Monitor Your Emu
I’m not talking about stalking your customers. Instead, simply be aware of what they buy or how they use your service, and keep checking in on them. If we had paid more attention to Emu, we would have noticed the wire on her gate had been gnawed on. Emu was looking for an escape. By listening to feedback from your customers and understanding their future plans, you can meet their needs better and avoid frustration.
3. Appreciate Your Emu
My high-school years as the “nerdy, quiet girl” were tough enough. Becoming “the girl with the pet emu that escaped” was even worse. Nearly twenty years later, though, I look back on the great Emu escape with amusement, and really appreciate that darn bird for teaching me that if you really want to do something, you can, no matter what. Gnaw at those wires and jump! The same goes for difficult exchanges with customers. The experience of dealing with a frustrated customer allows you to really focus on what they need, and become better at what you do. Emus! Learn from them.
This post, adapted here, first appeared on Communicate Better Blog, a customer-service resource managed by Jenny Dempsey, who just happens to be our amazing Customer Service Manager.