Customer Service: Just Be the Customer

serviceI have been in a customer service since I started in business. Most of my experience has been in the retail industry along with some early experience in direct textile sales. The fact is that all of us are in the business of customer service in some way, whether it is directly with the consumer, in a business to business role, a leadership role or an advisor to a friend or family member, we give service daily. In looking at the many articles and videos on customer service that are posted on the social networks today I can’t help but wonder how the concept of customer service become so complicated. Honestly I have at times in my life made it more complicated myself. I believe it has been complicated by two factors, the need for speed and a corporate focus that has prioritized the needs of the shareholder above the needs of the customer. This blog is going to focus on the area that most of us can control, the need for speed.
The other day I was driving to visit with a customer after having read several articles on customer service and I was thinking about how complex basic human interactions have become in today’s environment. After all, at its core, customer service is a basic human interaction. I couldn’t help thinking about the movie Caddyshack with Bill Murray. At one point Murray’s character Ty, in coaching another character to hit a golf ball says “Just be the ball”. By changing one word we have a new motto for customer service, “Just be the customer.” I am often amazed by the reactions of people in customer service to a complaint from a customer about a product or the need to return something or, in my current industry, the customer’s ability or inability to pay their bill on time. Often times, those in customer service become defensive, as if they are being punished, or frustrated because the refund may hurt their sales for the day. In some instances I have even seen customer service representatives get into an argument with the customer! The unacceptable practice of passing judgment and dehumanizing a customer during a “service” interaction (sometimes accompanied by name calling and finger-pointing) frequently happens after the customer has left and serves only to create a very negative environment. Years ago a leader with whom I had the honor to work told me; “You can’t hide attitude, it flows out of every pore in your body.” You can’t hide a poor service approach either. Your customers will see it and feel it even before you do.
In customer service the first step is to put yourself into the shoes of the customer. Focus on their concerns as if they were your own concerns. Actively listen to their complaint or issue as if you were talking to yourself. It is not about speed. It is about solving the problem and having a customer for life. Think of it this way; if it takes you 10 minutes to sell the customer a product you need to be willing to take 20 minutes or more to listen to and consider their concerns. This gives you the opportunity to take care of any customer issues, and to win them over by building a relationship. You can show the customer you are trustworthy and truly interested in their needs. Is that not how you wish to feel when someone is taking care of you?
Customer service is not about you. I have had the opportunity to recruit and hire Managers and Assistant Managers during my career. During the interview process I make it a point to focus on each candidate’s experience in customer service situations. I ask several situational questions and engage candidates in role-playing. The answers tell me two things: first, how would this candidate interact with my customers and second does this individual have the qualities of a leader? Individuals capable of true customer service possess many of the same qualities as leaders. They must be:
1. Humble – your product or service is not the only one available in the market. Customers have choices and you want to earn their business.
2. Good listeners – Hear what the customer has to say without anticipating how you will answer.
3. Empathetic – understand what they are saying and put yourself in their place.
4. Trustworthy – stand behind your product or service.
5. Respectful – how you would want to be treated in a similar situation?
6. Accountable – never place blame on the customer.
You must understand that slowing down and taking the time to have an interaction that ends in a win-win solution is the goal. Customer service is not about how fast you can get rid of the customer. It is about finding solutions and building relationships. If a candidate cannot take care of your customer, will they be able to lead your team?
In too many ways we have created a customer service environment of confrontation. Customers now have come to expect an argument so they come ready to have one. Customer service is not about winning the moment, is about winning the customer. It is about giving the best service possible by leading. If you are focused on winning the moment and standing up for your business you will fail. It is your choice whether you want to get away from the issue quickly or to win a customer for life. In racing they often say you have to slow down to go faster. In customer service you have to slow down to give great service and in the end you will have less service issues and more time to sell. And, you must always say: Thank You!!!!

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