Thursday, September 17, 2009

Service with a Smile ... Goes the Extra Mile

I’ve worked in customer service. I’ve trained customer service. And, like all of you, I’ve been on the receiving end of all sorts of customer service. So I can say with certainty, things tend to go better when you are nice, polite and professional. Sure there are occasions where that might not be true but those make up the exception more than the rule.

Many people, unfortunately don’t get that, they come off demanding and condescending and intimidating. Some times that works but more often than not it doesn’t. I once worked at a high-end hotel known for their customer service. As Customer Service Reps we were given some wiggle room when it came to handling complains. We could comp a night or two or have a special basket sent to a room without getting management approval first.

When people were nice and professional and respectful to me, I would go out of my way to accommodate their needs. On the other hand, when people were rude, abrupt and hostile, I was professional, to be sure, but I wasn’t bending over backwards to be extra helpful.

When I teach customer service, I explain to the representatives that a good customer service helps them as much as it helps the customer. For example, you are on the phone with a particularly difficult customer. Finally, you are able to end the call. Immediately afterwards, the phone rings again. Guess what? Your tone of voice is still the same as it was when you were talking to hostile guy! Since people respond to vocal cues and nuances on a gut level, the caller responds in kind with a slightly hostile and defensive tone of her own. Before you know it, what could have been a simple call is fraught with tension and strain.

If you are giving customer service, being polite and professional benefits you because it helps you to keep your emotions in check and when you are in control of your emotions, you are less likely to experience a lot of negativity and hostility. When you are the customer service rep:

  • Use the 10 second time out. If you find yourself in an emotionally escalating situation, put the caller on hold and take a couple deep cleansing breaths and a moment to calm yourself. Then return to the call. Don’t leave the person on hold though! That could make a bad situation worse.
  • Wait. Wait a minute or so after a difficult call before picking up the next one. Give yourself a chance to calm down and get the ‘attitude’ out of your voice.
  • Empathize. Remember, people are calling you because you have been trained and you have access to the information they need. Don’t expect people to know everything you know or to have done everything you think they should have done. You are the expert. Walk them through your process.
  • Give the play-by-play. Let people know what’s going on and what you are doing. Eliminate the long awkward pauses. “The computer is slow today.” “Please give me a moment while I research your account.”

However, there are a few tips for the customer who has to call customer service.

  • You are angry at the company not their representative. Most of the time, we don’t get to speak to the person who messed everything up. We are speaking to the person we hope can solve our problem. Unleashing your wrath on the unsuspecting person who just happened to answer the phone will not help the situation; it will only make it worse. Be polite.
  • Save the Sarcasm. It comes off poorly when you are face-to-face with someone and it sounds even worse over the phone. Condescension and a bad attitude will not help you win over the customer service rep. You need them as your ally and not your adversary.
  • Intimidation is not the method. Fear and threats are often used by people intent on “getting results.” On occasion, the bullying method actually works. More often than not, it doesn’t. It just leaves all parties involved frustrated and upset.

When it comes to customer service specifically and just dealing with people in general, a taste of honey goes a whole lot further than a gallon of vinegar.

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