Let’s face it, not everyone who works in the customer service industry knows how to provide quality customer service. This industry includes retail, restaurants, medical centers, counseling clinics, car dealerships, insurance companies, cable providers, energy providers, event planners, nursing homes, universities, churches, nonprofit organizations, and any vocation in which you are directly providing goods or services to people. These come from several years of experience in customer service and from personal experiences.
1. You are your client’s (customer’s or patient’s) advocate. While in your job you may serve as a proponent of the company, to your client, customer, or patient, you are the company. This means that how you treat your customers comes across as how the company treats its customers. If you notice that a coworker is not treating a customer or client with respect, report it immediately to your supervisor. Give it some time and follow up with your supervisor. Customers a lot of times don’t feel like they have a voice with a company when one of its employees has been rude to them.
2. How you, as an individual employee of your company, act in public represents the brand to the world. In many businesses, particularly the fashion world, you’ll hear the term “brand ambassador.” On the reality show “House of DVF,” contestants compete for the coveted position of brand ambassador for Diane Von Furstenberg. They are evaluated by Diane and her team based upon their potential to succeed in representing the brand of DVF to the world. Each week we see contestants struggle with their desire to be noticed as individuals and to fit in as a DVF brand ambassador. This criteria is important as it reflects the power of one employee to alter the perspective of his or her clients.
3. Don’t ask for permission from your boss to go the extra mile for your customers. Just do it. I visited a well-known bakery in Birmingham, Alabama recently and ordered some macarons. The girl handed me my bag, which is odd for macarons to be served in a bag, and my change, and she quickly shut the cash drawer. Upon receiving my change, I noticed that she gave me five one-dollar bills instead of a five-dollar bill. I asked her if she had a five-dollar bill, and this is where my frustration continued. Instead of taking the initiative to go get her boss to reopen the cash drawer, she stood their and gave me this monologue about how she didn’t know how to open the cash drawer after a transaction, and she concluded with, “I can go get my manager to reopen it.”
Customers don’t need to know the inner workings of your business, and they shouldn’t be expected to. You’re the one who works there, so if you can’t figure out how to do something, don’t try to explain it to your customers as a means of trying to get them to go away. You’re getting paid to do your job, so do your job.
4. If there’s a sign in your store that says that something is on sale, it is YOUR responsibility (not the the customer’s) to know about it. You need to know about the sales going on in your store. I can’t tell you how many times a clerk rang up my items incorrectly and then looked at me like I was some kind of woodland creature when I mentioned the sale sign. “Do you want me to get someone to check?” No. I want you to know about the sale in the first place. You should know that information, and don’t make your customers feel awkward about pointing it out to you.
5. A sale sign that is still posted after the expired date must be honored without you popping an attitude. If there is a sale sign, then the sale price is still valid. You cannot leave a sale sign up and then refuse to honor the sale price when a customer mentions it. Do not punish the customer for you not doing your job, when you should have taken the sign down already.
6. Anticipate the needs of your customer. Pay attention to your customers. The best employees anticipate the needs of their customers and act upon them instead of waiting for their customers to ask. For example, when you wait tables, don’t wait for your customers to ask for refills. Glance over at your tables frequently.
7. Read between the lines when your customer asks for something. In other words, don’t take the words of your client at face value. You will need to interpret what your customer is trying to say. Your customers likely don’t know the lingo of your workplace or your field of work. They shouldn’t have to. That’s your job.
8. Be careful how you communicate the rules of your business to customers. This goes back to you being an advocate for your clients and customers. If a customer brings back an item to return after the allotted period of time, instead of just telling the customer, “No,” find a solution that will work for you and the customer. If a customer is standing in line but not in the right place, honor the fact that he or she was there first. During the transaction, quietly communicate where the line is supposed to start, then later on, make natural boundaries for lines so there won’t be anymore confusion.
9. If you work for a retail company and you ask for personal information from your customer, explain to the customer why you need this information and how it will be used. Do not coldly ask your customers for their phone numbers or email addresses. You are not entitled to that information. The company is not entitled to that information. If customers tell you that they don’t want to give you a phone number or an email address, then do not give them an attitude about it. They don’t owe you anything, so don’t make them feel like they do.
10. Stop. answering. the. phone. IN FRONT. of. another. customer. Many retailers use this as a model to close more deals and to maintain efficiency in their work. However, this will hurt your business in the long run. The driving motivator now behind company success isn’t the product itself. Customers now seek an emotional connection with the product or the brand as a whole. If you have a customer standing in front of you who has made the effort to show up to your store in person and in the middle of the sell you take a phone call – even if it’s just to put the other person on hold (which is an even more awful idea) – you ruin the rapport you’ve built with the customer in your store, and you end up leaving both customers on hold so that your company can stand on and take advantage of the willing patience of your customers. “But I don’t want to miss a customer,” you say, and I understand your predicament. However, I also understand that the current model isn’t working, and something needs to change.
11. Stop closing the restroom during your busiest hours.
12. If your answer to a customer is, “no,” always have an alternative solution to offer. Chances are that you have a better solution to offer your customers. Can’t think of anything else? Make sure to do the following point.
13. Write down every possible scenario that you can imagine and come up with at least three to four (five to seven if you’re feeling extra ambitious) realistic solutions for each scenario. This will stretch you. You need to be able to think on your feet when you are with your customers, and having multiple solutions ready will make situations less awkward.
14. It’s okay if you make a mistake. If you make a mistake, just own it and correct it as soon as you notice it. Don’t wait until the problem gets bigger to solve it. If you don’t know how to correct it, ask your manager or a coworker for help. That’s one of the best parts about working with a team, you don’t have to solve everything on your own.
15. Make conversation with customers on the phone. Especially if your customer is calling from a different location, you can make it as simple as asking them about the weather, or you can make it more exciting by asking about their favorite sports team from their location or about something their location is known for. Genuine connections will keep your customers engaged with and excited about your company.