There aren’t, I’m going to argue, such thing as “customers” in the plural. At any rate, the concept of “customers” in the plural, in the aggregate, isn’t anywhere near as useful a concept for business success as is the singular customer, the one right in front of you, the one on the phone, the one who is tweeting at you or engaging with you on Facebook Messenger.

So, how do you treat customers as individuals, in a way that aligns with their expectations in our digitally-informed, connected marketplace.

Full View of Your Customer

First, a customer expects you to have a full view of them–a “map” of their interests, behaviors, history, including insights derived from your social behavior. A customer wants a company to know enough about them to serve them effectively whether the interaction is by phone, in person, by messaging, etc. Regardless if a customer starts an interaction in one channel (for example, purchase in the store), and continues the interaction in another (for example, arrange online for the return of that purchase) and concludes that interaction in yet another (for example, have the return take place from the porch of their home), you need all their information carrying over. Remove the repetitive exhaustion that goes hand in hand with siloed service channels and intergrate your CRM for a 360 degree view of your customer.

Brand Authenticity

Next, a customer expects you to be transparent with them. Hiding behind corporate policy and stuffy language and keeping a curtain between customers and how you do business? That’s so 2010. In 2017, transparency and authenticity are the watchwords. Social, in particular, has caused companies to be honest and aware. If you fudge the truth in a social reply, that little white lie is going to live on for years, and available for everyone to see. (In fact, one of the reasons that Facebook Messenger has quickly become a viable service channel is that they post their response times visibly for all to see.)

Adaptable Service Engagements

Next, a customer wants you to adapt your style of service to how they want to be treated, at this moment in time. It doesn’t matter how most customers want to be treated most of the time, a customer wants to be treated their way, now. This includes pacing of interaction – some customers are chatty, some don’t want to be slowed down­, and this depends on the situation, i.e., one customer may be chatty when they have plenty of time, and very brisk and no-nonsense when they’re on their 20-minute lunch break – and it includes resolution time. The best resolution time is a fluid resolution time. Rushing a customer to a resolution that they don’t want or that is based on incomplete information (on either the agent side or the customer side) doesn’t serve anyone well. In fact, when you are providing support by messaging (texting), you may end up increasing the time until resolution, but only because you are now adapting to a customer’s schedule, rather than forcing them to stay on the telephone and get everything wrapped up on this call, or be forced to go back into the queue for another call.

Knowing Your Customer and Serving them Now!

So, remember: There is only one customer, the one you are serving now. Even when you are serving a group—a family or shared-interest group, for example—every person in that group matters. This is one secret of the incredible customer service in the dining room at The Inn at Little Washington, Patrick O’Connell’s double-five-diamond establishment in pastoral Rappahannock County, Virginia: attention to every single diner at the table. Every evening, as a table is seated, the waiter who seats them discreetly writes down the perceived level of happiness of every diner, from a 1 to a 10. The service goal then becomes to get every person at the table up to a level of “9” or higher before their long drive home, whether that means switching out waiters for someone more compatible, paying special attention to food choices, etc. The goal is not always attainable, certainly; but at least the service staff now know where they’re aiming.

Could you do the same? Could you stop delivering customer service just one way, the way you think is best, and switch to offering it in a way that adapts to the customer and situation in front of you? I suggest you try it on for size. Let your customers be your customer service experts. And follow their lead.