The Importance of Self-Definition

Knowing who you are is of course incredibly important, not only to yourself, but also to those with whom you interact. It serves as your guide for moving forward. This is no less true in business, especially in the context of serving your customers and, more importantly, keeping them.

I recently uncovered a document I created in 2012, back when I was running the Customer Service Department at Glyde.com, a peer-to-peer marketplace startup in Palo Alto. I called it The Pillars of Glyde Customer Service. The idea was to articulate what it means to be a service agent of Glyde on front lines of e-commerce. Yes, that may sound a bit grandiose, but as the human touch points of our company, I took it all very seriously.

Here are the pillars:

Read Closely and Don’t Assume — Take the time to identify what problem the buyer or seller is having. Even if they are inquiring about not having received their tracking number for a package, the issue could really be that their credit card was declined or their email address on file was incorrect.

Be Positive — Always begin by telling the buyer or seller what you CAN do for them instead of what you CAN’T do. For example: If a buyer requests to cancel their transaction and the mailing kit has already been sent to the seller, begin by telling them you will contact the seller and ask that the item not be sent. Then let the buyer know you can’t cancel the transaction until you've confirmed that the seller won’t send the item and offer them the solution of returning the item if they do receive it. This way they will at least know you are being proactive and trying to solve their problem instead of immediately denying their request. And as always, thank them for using Glyde!

Empathize and Apologize — Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Is this the first time a seller has used Glyde and they are upset that the buyer returned their item for no reason? Is this the third time a buyer’s iPad order has been cancelled? Understand what frustration the customer may be feeling and apologize for the experience they are having. Even though the situation may not be our fault, and the customer may not be right, the customer should always feel valued and that their complaints are being heard and understood.

Be Proactive — Identify and anticipate a customer’s future questions and needs, but don’t stop there! Give them an extraordinary customer service experience by offering coupons, refunding shipping costs (when appropriate), and sending a replacement game case if theirs arrived broken in the mail. Send an email to the seller if they didn't ship out the phone charger and contact the buyer to find out exactly why they are returning their item. And of course, don’t be afraid to come up with new ways of being proactive. This is how we turn less-than-satisfied customers into lifetime Glyders!

Simplify — Even if Glyde has the best system in the world for getting things done, if customers don’t understand the way we do things, they will end up frustrated and confused. Always begin by giving customers the most simplified version of our system even if we know there is much more going on behind the scenes. If they don’t understand the first time, reword how you explained things and try again. Never give up on a customer by telling them you already explained it to them once by refusing to say it again.

Follow-Up — Go the extra mile by following up on your solution. Contact the customer again to make sure their problems have been solved to their satisfaction and that they are pleased with Glyde. Of course this may be difficult to do for all incidents given the volume of emails we receive each day, but always follow-up on priority emails that had difficult circumstances or with customers that may need a little extra TLC.


I didn't realize it at the time, but while I was sketching out these pillars, I was also defining my own set of core values — a packaged set of guiding principles that I can bring to any customer-focused organization: Ease, Trust, and Intrinsic Reward. I’ll go deeper into these in a separate post, but quickly, I’m always driving towards “Yes” as the answer to these questions below:

  • Ease — If a customer has a question or an issue, is it easy for them to get it answered or resolved?
  • Trust — If a customer has a problem, do they trust you to have their back? Can they count on you?
  • Intrinsic Reward — Once the interaction is over, does the customer leave not just satisfied with their service experience, but also feeling good about the company you’re representing? Are they proud to be a customer?

Of course, because we like helping people, it feels good to be and to do all of these things above — and I genuinely believe them. But at the end of the day, what we’re really doing here is driving loyalty. A person who ‘clicks on the purchase button’ is great, but if we can help in any way to get that person to click on it again… Well, that’s the magic we’re after.

- Nick