We are very lucky to live in a time where technology makes our day to day lives easier and our business processes more efficient. One area that typically takes a hit in this fast-paced world is customer service. We see it everywhere, from automated kiosks at the store and in restaurants to recorded messages when we call so-called “customer service” numbers. The ever-increasing need for companies to grow their bottom line, shift more product, and move people quickly through their system means that our daily interactions with our customers – and just people – in general suffer.
My Shamrock colleague Tyler Groepper wrote a great blog post recently that you can check out Here. While his article doesn’t focus on customer service specifically, it serves as a powerful reminder that with all of this technology, it’s too easy to lose touch with what is truly significant. Personal interaction is important and it leaves a large, lasting impression when we take the time to encourage a co-worker, compliment a friend or family member, or say a kind word to someone we happen to bump into. In the case of vendor/customer interactions, kind words and/or a little extra effort goes a long way and can set you apart from others.
Marketing is a powerful tool and we see the term “customer service” used in commercials and advertisements because this one little term stands out and can mean the difference between a potential customer coming to you or going to a competitor. But how many times have you gone to a business that promotes great customer service and found it to be lacking? It happens to me all the time. Yet when you come across that rare business that actually backs up its promise of good customer service, it leaves its mark and you find yourself telling others about your positive experience. Not necessarily because the product was great or the service fast, but because the person you were dealing with took the time to make sure that you had a great interaction.
I am a big believer in customer service and one experience that made me understand its power came when I was young and waiting tables. It was a very busy day and I was a bit behind. I took an order from a family of five and went to get their drinks. In the shuffle, I completely forgot to put their order into the system. Sometime later – embarrassingly, half an hour or more – the customer called me over and asked about their order. I went to check on it and that’s when I came to the horrible realization that I didn’t put their order in.
After overcoming that initial moment of panic, I immediately put the order in the system, asked it to be rushed and alerted my manager, who discounted the whole meal heavily. Then I hustled back to the table, apologized for my mistake, and told them that I put a rush on the order with the kitchen. The father asked to see the manager and thankfully the family got their meal after. I made sure to stay attentive to them throughout the meal after that. When the family left, the father stopped and handed me $30.
I was pretty confused and was still feeling awful for making him and his family wait. He explained that he was happy with my service but the thing that stood out what that when I forgot to put in the order, I came over and told him what happened and didn’t try to lay the blame on the cooks in the kitchen or make some other lame excuse for their meal taking long. He said that he appreciated my honesty and that it made the difference for him and his family. I didn’t think it was a big deal but appreciated the gesture.
This lesson still resonates with me today and makes me determined to make every client conversation count. So what does good customer service look like? It isn’t complicated and takes no extra effort.
Smile – We all know first impressions are key to every interaction. When a customer walks up and is immediately greeted with a smile that sets the tone. You don’t need a big, cheesy, used car salesperson smile. Just be yourself. Not only does it make the customer immediately feel at ease but it can also lift your mood and make the interaction better for you, too. This also applies when you’re not face-to-face with a customer. It sounds silly but when talking on the phone, smile! It definitely comes through in your tone and delivery.
Empathy – Don’t jump to conclusions, but make the effort to understand an existing customer’s frustrations or a new customer’s needs. This is important because if we can’t put ourselves in the shoes of others, how can we understand how to help them? Take their complaints and needs as seriously as you would if they were your issues, show the client that they’re important to you and make it clear that the issue isn’t just one more thing you have to deal with.
Patience – With empathy comes patience. This is very important. Often customers will be upset and unfortunately, you’re the one who gets the brunt of it. Combining understanding and patience helps get to the root of the issue and your attitude toward their needs or issues will make or break that interaction – and possibly the long-term relationship, as well.
Communication – Communication is key! Make sure to use positive language when talking with clients and be clear about the message. Do not leave things open and unresolved. Let the customer know exactly what is happening and what you and your team will do to address it. Then follow through and be true to your word.
Don’t just say, “We’re working on it and will get back to you,” or “We can’t do that.” Instead, let them know what you’re doing and if there is a hold-up, what the reason is. End with something positive that lets the customer know you are on top of their need. Even if it is something out of your control and you can’t actually do it, this doesn’t mean the end result has to leave them with a bad experience.
Instead, try saying something like, “I apologize for the delay in getting this done. We had a few setbacks but have worked through them and are making progress. Here are our next steps. Please let us know if there is anything else we can assist with.” Or maybe, “We would be more than happy to assist but we don’t have the necessary access to handle that. We would be happy to assist with contacting the necessary party to help get this resolved if needed.” Just always remember to speak to customers how you would like to be spoken to in your conversations. Make it abundantly clear that you care about them and their issue, and will do everything in your power to make things right.
Emails – Communication in emails is even more important as we are not able to convey tone so the overall message has to be thought out to ensure that the customer does not misinterpret your message or read it in a negative manner. It may sound funny but put a “smile” in your email (not literally of course – emojis don’t exactly scream professionalism!) but when you apply that mentality to writing your emails, they tend to have a more positive tone.
Consistency – This comes easy when you try to apply positive qualities to every interaction. Consistency in your interactions with customers will set you apart and keep customers coming back, as well as them recommending you to new potential customers.
These are just a few customer service pointers that I tend to use when working with customers and in my day-to-day interactions in general. I find a real satisfaction knowing that little things like a smile or a kind word can make another person’s day.
At Shamrock, one thing that I’ve noticed is that everyone puts forth that extra effort to provide good customer service with every project that comes through. Here “customer service” isn’t a marketing buzzword but an actual belief that informs how we interact with people. I believe that’s what keeps customers coming back time and again.
Jeff Jones, Technical Consultant