What Service People can learn from “The Princess & the Pea”

The rise of digital interactions has generated a corresponding rise in the volume and intensity of difficult Customer situations.

The story of “The Princess & the Pea” has some lessons on how to deal with difficult Customer situations.

The Princess & The Pea

In the story of the Princess and the Pea, a Prince seeks to find and marry a ‘real’ Princess.

Though there were a lot of young ladies that claimed to be Princesses out there, something seemed to be wrong with each one.

It was hard to find out if any of them were, in fact, a real Princess.

One night, during a severe thunderstorm, there was a knock at the castle door.

Outside, there stood a young lady.  Wet and dripping she asked for shelter for the night.

The Prince’s mother, the Queen, decided to test if this was indeed a real Princess.

“We’ll soon find out,” she said to herself.

She went into the bedroom, took all the bedding off the bedstead, and laid a pea on the bottom-most mattress.

Then she proceeded to lay another 20 mattresses on top of the pea, and finally 20 more comforters on top of the mattresses for good measure.

“Here you go young lady”, she said.

“You can sleep here.”

The next morning, the King, Queen and Prince entered the bedroom where the young lady had slept and  the Queen asked, “How did you sleep?”

To that the young lady replied –

“Oh, very badly!”

“I have scarcely closed my eyes all night…

Heaven only knows what was in the bed, but I was lying on something so hard, that today I am black and blue all over. It’s horrible!”

Imagine the worst NPS score ever.

Now they all knew that she was a indeed a real Princess.

Only a level of sensitivity that great could feel the pea below all that bedding.

I think there is a valuable lesson from this story.

Especially those of us in the Frontline and who deal with difficult Customer situations.

Dealing with difficult Customer situations

When we teach how to deal with difficult Customer situations, we ask participants to define or describe a difficult Customer situation.

Common responses include –

  • They are so demanding…
  • Why do Customers repeat the same thing over and over…
  • Our Customers  are persistent and refuse to understand…

Then I usually ask –

“Ok – did you have any fear about your physical safety as a result of what you just described?”

” Um…no…”

“Did you experience any emotional damage as a result of what you just described?”

“Not really…”

“Then is it possible that perhaps, in this moment, you’re responding a bit like the Princess with a pea?”

Usually we all laugh here.

The role of emotional maturity

In the world of Customer Service – or Corporate life in general – you’re bound to come across people that are demanding, irritating and unpleasant.

We can always thank our parents, our teachers, a higher power or whatever it may be, that we don’t behave that way.

That we don’t look at the world from an unhappy vantage point.

That we don’t operate as if somebody owes us a living.

According to research, people that succeed in life have high levels of emotional intelligence.

And the most predominant characteristic of emotional intelligence – as isolated by the researchers – is self-control.

Self control

Self control involves not taking things too personally or with too much sensitivity – especially if we’re not in any physical or emotional danger.

It’s not about what we go through – and in Customer Service we go through a lot.

It’s about how we choose to respond to what we go through.

And that includes difficult Customers.

Thank you Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen’s story is a classic and you have to give it to the characters in the story.

She got a Prince and he got his Princess.

The Queen can return to matters of state – or whatever it is that Queens in fairy stories do.

But getting back to real life my advice is – stop looking for the pea!

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