Harvard Business Review posted a video about customer service, called “When to disappoint your customers.” It is really about strategic trade-offs. It isn’t about my theme, customer service from the heart.

Here’s the link: http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2012/07/when-to-disappoint-your-custom.html

Frances Frei argues that you cannot do customer service in every area, and she uses the Apple Airbook as an example. IF lightness is your goal, you have to give up on some other qualities. I am writing this on an Airbook, and she is right. My son has a MacBook and his battery life is greater than mine. But since I travel a lot, I am willing to give up an hour of battery life (still spectacular at 5 hours) for the light-thin attributes. If I were mostly at home, I’d want the MacBook or the desktop Apple. She argues that trying to do everything right makes you fail. You have to decide what the customer really wants and do that and let the other areas go.

Yet, Steve Jobs’ original vision of things being “insanely great” is still alive in all the Apple products, and is why I like them. My laptop before this was an IBM Thinkpad, an X30 model which was their lightest model. It was good but its’ plastic case cracked and eventually broke. Windows XP was all right but got slower and slower. And while Apple is expensive, they have very good customer service at the Apple store. The employees actually do try to understand your concerns, and they seem to have plenty of time. They seem to love the idea of working for Apple.

So their customer service is from the heart, because it is focused on a love for the product and apparently a genuine concern – dare I say love? – for the customer. They aren’t foolish, and they can’t do everything, nor do they try. They know what they sell, and they want me to have it.

What does that have to do with what I do? I am a coach and a therapist, as are many of you. When should you disappoint your customer? I think the answer is when they want something impossible. For example, a man’s wife decides to divorce him. She hasn’t liked him for years, was constantly critical and negative, and finally had enough. He came to me in an extreme state of anxiety. He wants to save his marriage.

The problem with that goal is that it involves making someone else do something. That isn’t going to work out well. In our society, either party can leave a marriage at any time. I had to disappoint him. But my heart was in the right place. I don’t want him to suffer. So we spoke of the courage to accept things as they are when we cannot change them, and the strength that comes from changing what you can.

I talked to him two days ago, and he is a remarkably changed man. By abandoning his idea of winning back a rather unpleasant partner who has criticized him for years, his emphasis shifted to cultivating inner peace. He had worried that his children were being turned against him. He is right. The ex-wife is doing all she can to make the three children oppose him. Only his oldest will talk to him, and that as considerable risk to herself from her mother.

What helped him was when I pointed out that it is time to play a long game. People are heliotropic. Like sunflowers, they always turn toward the light. His children are heliotropic. If they turned away from him, it was partly his ex trying to alienate them, but that won’t last. His own anxiety and agitation will turn them away from him. His first goal is to nurture a peaceful and loving heart, and they will eventually turn back toward him. He is different from his wife, because he wants them to love her as well as him. His heart is in the right place.

I think my notion about heart-focused customer service holds up well, but I realize that my client needed to see that his ex is not his customer. His children are. When that became clear, his heart was much more peaceful. He is amazed at how good it feels.

Decide who your customers are and nurture a warm heart toward them. Good common sense insights will follow.