Customer Service Made Easy

Unless you're a hermit living in the remotest cave in the Rockies, you need customer service skills. You use them everywhere, from dealing with your children's teachers to actually waiting on customers. Many of us use those customer service skills every day as a part of our job, but pretty much everyone on the planet interacts with other human beings regularly. The things you do to treat your customers well and encourage their continued business are the same things that will make the rest of your life a little more smooth.

With that in mind, here are a few simple things to brush up on today.
  1. When your customer is talking, stop the background noise in your head and listen to them. Don't think of what you want to say next, don't think about what all you should be doing instead. Listen to your customer. If they are complaining, their first goal is to get someone to HEAR their complaint. That someone starts with you. Even if they are complaining about something that is in no way your fault, and which you have no power to remedy, their first need is to be heard. 
  2. Speak proper English. Unless you know your customer extremely well, don't use slang. Never use even the mildest profanities. Speak in complete sentences. The abbreviated sentence fragments we use when speaking with friends can come off sounding terse and disinterested to customers. Have you ever asked someone in the grocery store where to find an item? There is a big difference between, "Aisle 5." and "Oh, that's right down there in Aisle 5, about halfway down on the right side." The information relayed is almost identical, but the delivery is worlds apart.
  3. Listen for cues to how someone wishes to be addressed, and act accordingly. If your customer introduces himself as Dr. Robert Wonderful, don't shorten that to "Doc" or "Bob". Dr. Wonderful will do. And if they give you the courtesy of offering you a casual name to call them, "Oh, just call me Bob," then it works this way: thank him and address his as Bob. But if you introduce him to someone else, it's back to "Dr. Wonderful." He gets to give others permission to address him in a familiar fashion; that's not your place.
  4. Be sincere about whatever you're doing. If it's a light, friendly exchange, be sincerely friendly. If there is a problem to be solved, be sincerely helpful. And if you screwed up, be sincerely apologetic.
  5. Accept blame. This is a big one. Sit down and pay attention. Are you listening? Even accept blame if the true blame doesn't rest with you. OK, their expensive and gorgeous sweater, which said "Handwash only in cold and dry flat", shrank down 8 sizes in their dryer. This is clearly not your fault. It doesn't matter. Unless you are a police detective, pointing out the guilty party is not your job. You don't exactly have to admit fault, unless it truly is your fault, but you must be willing to let them unload on you and NOT tell them to read the dang label next time. "I am so sorry this happened! This must be so disappointing, because this color would look just great on you. Let me see what I can find out about this." Words that should never cross your lips when speaking to a customer: "It's not my fault." Even if it isn't your fault, you aren't allowed to say that.
  6. Imagine yourself in your customer's shoes. Empathy is key to delivering superior customer service. It doesn't matter what industry you're in. If your customer is grouchy, think about how you'd act in their situation. Whether it's their sick child in the doctor's office where you work, or the victim of a car accident being reported your agency, or just a customer who had to wait in line a long time to buy their pack of toilet paper, think about how you would feel. Here's a little trick: imagine how the situation must feel to the customer and then imagine that it's worse. The customer who had to wait 15 minutes in line to buy a pack of toilet paper? Imagine she has 6 kids at home and they all have the trots, hence the urgent need for lots of t.p. You can pretty much guarantee that for whatever problem a customer has that you know about, there are more that you don't know about. Show a little compassion.
  7. Put a lid on it. After you part with your customer, whether it's hanging up the phone, their departure from your office or them walking away from your checkout stand, Do. Not. React. If you hang up the phone with a big sigh, you run a serious risk of being heard. Roll your eyes when they walk away and you may not be able to unroll fast enough if they turn around to tell you one more thing. I promise, you do not want to get caught doing something like that. Put on your big girl panties and keep your reaction to yourself.
  8. Kill them with kindness. Think of it as a weird kind of fencing match with jabs and parries. The more obnoxious the customer behaves, the more you need to be professional and patient. First, you will more likely win them over by kindness than you could if you shout back. Second, it will gain you sympathy from other customers who are watching. Third, if you can maintain your composure, even if you can't make them happy, there is a good chance they will go away, feel like an ass and come back to repent. It doesn't always work, but it has the best chance of success of anything I've ever tried.
  9. Remember what you expect as a customer, and deliver at least that.  A cheerful Hello, a genuine Thank You... ordinary courtesy. 
  10. Be grateful for your customers. Without them, you don't have a job.

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