I wrote a previous article about how to be a savvy customer. Now I’m gonna talk about the other side of the table, that of customer service. The phrase itself doesn’t actually end at the customer service desk or department alone. Sales people, managers, and those in other positions sometimes require a little bit of it in their work. The role of customer service is to ultimately make the customer leave the store, office, or meeting with a sense of wanting to come back and purchase again and again.
Here are the best ways to be great at it.
1.) Leave your concerns at home.
Whatever concerns you, leave it out as soon as you enter the office. Write some notes about it on a notebook. Remember you can always come back to it during your morning, lunch, or afternoon breaks, or as soon as you log out.
2.) Observe your colleagues who you think have the warmest and friendliest nature, who have the most gentle voice both when facing customers or talking to them on the phone.
The idea is to emulate what they do because you have your own positive qualities. If you are not typically friendly and approachable, you can practice smiling in front of a mirror until it becomes second nature to you.
3.) Smile in the most genuine way you can muster. Acknowledge their presence even if they are just browsing through items in the shop.
I read somewhere that even if you’re having a bad day, smiling can eventually make you feel better and make you approach a customer, a colleague or a friend better. You may even make someone else’s day just by you acknowledging that they are there inside the office or in the shop, interested in having a look at the things and possibly buying them. By smiling at them and making eye contact, you are making customers feel at home, even if it’s just a shop. By smiling, I also mean showing a little bit of teeth, even if you feel you’re shy. Because most people associate a smile with showing a wide grin. For years I didn’t realize that what I thought was a smile was actually something different to customers, and so I strive to practice smiling a bit more each day. Sometimes I still smile with my mouth closed because of years of shyness but with time smiling becomes very easy.
Smile even at the risk of them not smiling back at you or not acknowledging you at all. Because it doesn’t cost you to smile anyway. My former colleague once commented that I get along very well with other people from different departments. That’s only because I am more aware of myself and my actions now that it becomes easy for me to talk to people. And that can start with just a smile.
4.) Have a gentle voice when face-to-face or speaking with customers on the phone.
As much as possible, whether the day is quiet or busy, always be aware of your own voice when customers visit your counter or call you on the phone. And even when they complain about something, just pay attention, breathe, have a look of concern when extending apologies on behalf of the company. Sometimes you have to apologize even if you don’t want to do it so that the customer feels better. It’s always about making the customer feel better in the end.
5.) Be kind and friendly to your work colleagues the same way as you treat your customers.
That I was reminded of from the late former Singapore prime minister Lee Kwan Yew from his book “From Third World to First.” Because according to him, there’s no point being kind to customers and tourists when fellow colleagues don’t treat each other the same way. Also I read a quote by Ian Maclaren/Rev. John Watson that we all need to “be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle” that radically changed my thinking in so many ways.
It’s important to treat everyone equally no matter what you feel. No matter what clothes they wear, whether they understand you or not, whatever their skin color is, a customer is a customer, and they come in different shapes, heights, and sizes. Everyone wants to be acknowledged. Remember that you are also a customer of whichever store, restaurant, cafe, and other places you go to for their products, services, or both.
6.) Because there are difficult customers, the best thing to do is to breathe slowly. Listen. Then help resolve the problem.
This is crucial so you stay rational when a customer complains in front of you. You don’t have to receive their energy; you just stay calm, focus on the customer, ask help from the manager or other colleague if needed, then resolve it.
7.) The famous quote “the customer is always right” actually depends on the situation.
There are customers who are really genuine with their complaints or knowledge about a product or service. But there are others who are serial returnees of items and constantly asking for refunds. There are times that the customer is indeed right, but there are times you have to be the bearer of bad news, in the kindest way you can show. If you have to pause for a moment so you know how to say it, then do it. After all, providing customer service is about people relations and dynamics, not how knowledgeable you are about the product or service.
8.) Have a good grasp of the company’s products and services.
Whether the company requires you to know all the brands and features of those products or just have some idea about what your company is selling, you need to know simply because your customers will ask for it.
9.) It’s much better to let customers know ahead how long it takes for queries, complaints, and other requests to be resolved.
This may not apply in all circumstances so please do this at your own discretion, but I do let them know a few things whether or not they ask of it. Because I’d rather they are informed ahead of time rather than do something and then later on found out the card is not working, or they haven’t received the item. For example, a customer uses the account card to purchase an item but the transaction wasn’t successful because upon further inspection, the card wasn’t actually activated yet. It really happens that customers don’t take the time to read the paper that’s included with the card. So what happens is that they need to wait for few minutes before they can use the card because the system takes time for it to be activated.
In this case, whenever new customers are applying for the store credit card, I let them know how long it takes for the card to be processed and that they need to activate it as soon as they receive it.
10.) There are company rules, and there are case-by-case decisions.
It took me a long time to realize that sometimes managers and staff make decisions on a case-by-case basis, especially when customers have either very valid reasons or are just too insistent on getting their own way. If you have the authority to make the call, then do so. Otherwise, it may be best to ask a senior person to make the final decision. Because there are some customers who actually prefer to speak to a manager, whether to confirm what you said is true or to use that opportunity to get what they want. So if that’s the case then let the manager do it.
11.) Know and remember your colleagues’ names.
Because you will be dealing with them on a daily basis, it’s best to remember their names so you can properly address them.
12.) If you don’t know the answer to a customer’s question, just say “I need to confirm (the info) with my colleague/manager” or “What I can do is…” or “It may be best to…” whichever applies to your situation.