I have always believed that providing good customer service is a choice. Like flossing your teeth each night. You finish brushing your teeth and you choose to pull out the dental floss even though you’re tired. A customer steps up to the checkout and you choose to smile and say hello. Or not…
By suggesting that customer service is a choice, I’m not trying to simplify the concept of overall customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. I have researched and written training programs on the subject of customer service. And, I recognize that there’s more to creating a customer service culture that is in line with company values than merely smiling and acknowledging a customer. The manager needs to lead by example. The company needs to remove obstacles that prevent the employee from truly serving the customer. I could go on, but that’s an article for another time.
What I’m talking about is basic frontline service. The kind of service that an employee chooses to provide every time a customer walks in the door. The kind of service that shows customers that the employees care.
Over the years, I have changed banks more times than I can count because the employees didn’t care. I have stopped patronizing certain restaurants and have boycotted certain stores on customer service principle alone. When an employee makes a choice to deal with me as if I don’t matter, then I usually take my business somewhere else.
And, I am not alone. A survey conducted by the Small Business Administration in a recent year found two out of three customers will take their business elsewhere if they feel that an employee is indifferent. And the SBA findings mirror other survey results on the same topic.
Can you afford to lose two out of three customers because your employees’ attitude is indifferent or aloof? The good news is that there are a few simple things your employees can do to help your customers feel cared about. Let’s call them…
1. An acknowledgement.
We all have a human need to be acknowledged and noticed.
Good morning. I’ll be with you in just a moment. Hi, how are you today?
An employee who chooses to stop for a moment and acknowledge a customer with a smile and a hello will never come across as indifferent. But consider for a moment how the customer feels when the opposite happens. What happens when the employee chooses not to acknowledge the customer?
Take your manager’s hat off for a moment and think about walking into a restaurant, sitting down at one of several empty tables and watching your waitress walk by several times without so much as a glance your way.
Or, think about standing in line at checkout, getting up to the counter and the employee asking you if you found everything you need without even looking at you. How’s that for acknowledging your presence? Would you think those employees cared? Or, would you think they were indifferent?
2. Thank You.
It’s true what your parents always told you… manners show you care. A sincere thank you when receiving payment or when a transaction is completed may not seem like much, but when it’s missing, customers notice. Let me give you an example. A few weeks ago I went into a store to buy a birthday card. I was standing behind a customer whose transaction was finishing. Counting back the correct change, the employee handed the customer her receipt and her bag, and without saying thank you or anything else for that matter, the employee started to reach out to take my card and begin my transaction. The other customer moved aside a couple of steps while she was trying to put away her change, zip her wallet, and close her purse. The expression on her face when she turned to leave told the whole story. She felt like a number. A transaction. Had that employee smiled and said thanks for coming in, the customer would have had the moment she needed to gather her things and she would have felt like the employee cared. It was obvious to both of us that the employee was just counting down the hours until his shift was over.
3. I understand.
You’ve heard the cliché about walking in someone else’s shoes? That’s empathy. Saying, “I understand” is expressing empathy. The best discussion I have ever read about empathy and the role it plays in interpersonal communication can be found in Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In “Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood,” Covey describes the principles of empathic communication. Empathic communication is the essence of customer service when a customer isn’t happy or has a problem. Do you listen and seek first to understand? Or do you talk and explain without first trying to understand why your customer is upset? What about your employees? Do they seek first to understand and then reassure their customers by saying so? Many customer concerns and issues can be diffused with the words, “I understand.”
4. I’m sorry.
Whether something is your fault or not, saying, “I’m sorry” when things go wrong seems like common sense to me. Yet, many employees choose not to apologize because they believe it places blame. Do your employees apologize just because something went amiss? Or do they hold back because they feel like they’re accepting blame? Sorry doesn’t have to mean it’s your fault. Saying “I’m sorry” is about recognizing the customer’s feelings. It helps diffuse the situation by offering empathy. And, it acknowledges the hassle. I’m sorry this happened I’m sorry for the mix-up. I’m sorry you didn’t like it. Sometimes that’s all a customer wants. And, making the choice to say, “I’m sorry” communicates that you care about the customer and what has happened.
5. For you.
I love this one. There’s no indifference here. These two little words personalize service. Instead of “I’ll check,” say “I’ll check that for you.” Hear the difference? Those two words add significance. And, when an employee adds those two words, there’s a connection and almost always, there is eye contact. Let me look that up for you. What can I do for you? Let me take care of that for you. You get the idea.
6. Their name.
There’s nothing like the sound of your name to make you perk up, listen and feel cared about. Customers notice. I went into a store yesterday and paid by check. I was waiting to see if she would use my name. (Why I gave her the benefit of the doubt up to this point, I’m not sure. She didn’t look at me when I stepped up to the counter or say hello.) She stayed true to her character. Instead of saying, “May I have your phone number Mrs. Eby,” she grunted “phone number” with her head down and pen poised over my check. Granted not every transaction offers a quick and easy opportunity to learn a customer’s name. But, when the chance is handed to you on a check or a credit card, it’s an easy way to personalize your service. Does that mean if you don’t call your customer by name, you’ll lose their business? No. But, in today’s competitive marketplace, it’s an easy way to set your company apart. That human connection will also make things easier if you have a problem with that customer in the future. I’ll go back to that store again. But only for one reason: to purchase a product that isn’t easy for me to find elsewhere. It won’t get add-on business. It won’t get impulse purchases. I won’t pay full price. And, I’ll do my part to bear out the statistics that customers will tell 7 to 10 people about a poor service experience. As a matter of fact, I think I already have.
Michele Eby works for Media Partners as a writer and training advisor. She has worked in the training and development field for more than 15 years. Media Partners' customer service training programs, “The Guest” and “What Do You Say” were the sources for this article.