Customer Service Made Simple

Did you know...The average business never hears from 96% of unhappy customers. For every complaint received there are in fact 26 customers with problems, 6 of which are considered serious. An average customer with a problem tells 9-10 others, 13% tell 20 or more.
- Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D.

Good help is hard to find. I stood there in utter amazement as the woman to whom I was trying to hand my money, answered a ringing phone and then, instead of putting the caller on hold, told me to wait until she finished the call. If the check had not already been written and had the event not been a fundraiser for a non-profit organization, I would have walked away. As I have said time and time again, etiquette is not rocket science, but it does require a bit of thought. This month, I'd like to review the small steps that make a big difference in customer service.

I Am Invisible ~ Even if you can not assist the customer immediately, eye contact will let the customer know that you are aware that he/she is there.

Take A Number ~ Customers should be assisted in the order that they arrived. And those customers who took the time to come in person should be assisted before those who call on the telephone.

Ask The Question ~ If you work in a place of business, the customer service question is "How may I help you?" If you work in a retail establishment, the customer service question is "May I help you?" The second question allows for the possibility of browsing, the first does not.

Soft Sell Me ~ Any "special" offer that expires within 24 hours is clearly a pressure scam. If you are forcing the customer to make a quick decision, the customer can assume there is something about the product that you are hoping they will not discover.

Acknowledge and Empathize ~ Not all customers are as polite as they should be to you. With that said, a smile and a kind word can help defuse a situation. If the customer becomes abusive, then seek help from a manager; do not respond in kind.

Always Accessorize ~ You know the product better than the customer. If there is something that matches, something that will help the item last longer, or something that will make the customer's life easier, please say so.

Don't Look Down ~ You may be working for the chicest restaurant in town, but the customer is still the reason why you receive your salary. Please don't assume a snooty attitude.

Privacy Please ~ By looking at the customer's purchases you may be able to deduce a good deal about the customer. And maybe you can... but please do not pry by asking personal questions.

Dozens and Dozens ~ The marketing adage is that a happy customer may tell one or two of their friends. But an unhappy customer tells, on average, 11 others. So for every one customer who is treated badly, there are a dozen people who have discussed the experience. Being polite is your best marketing tool.

Thank Me ~ After the customer has patronized your establishment, do thank him/her for the business. This is not the same as "Here ya go," or instructing the customer to "Have a nice day." A simple thank you, with a smile thrown in, will suffice.

Exceed Expectations ~ At some point, customers may appear so exasperated that even the smallest gesture can create customer loyalty. Going even the smallest of extra steps helps to create feelings of good will as well as happy customers.

Here is a real life example of outstanding customer service:

With limited time (and patience) for shopping, I truly rely on the sales people in the stores I visit. I try to visit the fitting room once. Whenever possible I will have a sales person follow me through the store while I choose items. During a recent trip to Ann Taylor, Betsy offered to help me find the perfect, black, presentation pants suit. She followed me around the store watching what I was drawn to and what was rejected. Then, as I tried the clothing on, Betsy ran in and out offering shirts, scarves, belts and shoes to finish the outfit. Once I had the outfit set, she gently reminded me that by adding the matching skirt I would double the use of the jacket (soft sell). Betsy offered to steam the outfit while I finished other errands (exceeding expectations). When I returned, my outfit was waiting for me near the cashier. I paid and left the mall. On my way out, the parking attendant informed me that had my parking pass been stamped by the store, the parking would have been complimentary. I went from being pleased with my purchase to being annoyed that my parking had not been validated. Not having time to run back into the mall, I drove home. People who also live in big cities know that just a few hours in a parking garage can quickly exceed $30.00. So I called Betsy. Not to complain, but to let her know that the cashier should be asking each customer if they need their parking validated. Betsy and manager, Laurie, both apologized to me (acknowledge and empathize). I thought the situation was over. But then, they sent me an Ann Taylor gift certificate equal to the amount I paid in parking (exceeding expectations). As to be expected, I have told all of my friends and acquaintances this story (dozens and dozens). Ann Taylor has a very loyal customer in me.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I recently moved and have noticed in this area that with the exception of the pizza delivery guy (who is a teenager), everyone else refuses my tips. I have tried to tip the florist delivery person, the balloon delivery person, and the package guy. Should I continue to offer tips? If someone goes out of their way for me, is there something else I should do to thank them?

A: Tipping is dependant on local custom. For each new delivery person I would recommend offering a tip. At the end of the year, you should give a gift for exemplary customer service to those delivery people with whom you have regular contact.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ As a teller in a bank, I sometimes feel as if I am part of the woodwork. People do not respond to my greeting, some rarely make eye contact and others chat on their cell phones as if I was not there. Should I allow people to treat me as if I was not there?

A: Your question reminded me of the series Manor House which is currently airing on PBS. In the past servants were considered an extension of the woodwork and were not acknowledged. However in our society, in this day and age, we do acknowledge others who are there to help us. For those who do not make eye contact, you can repeat your greeting, while keeping the tone friendly and upbeat. And for those who answer a cell phone, you should continue the transaction until you need to interact with the customer again, and then wait until they acknowledge you. Remember to stay polite and hope your customers will rise to your level.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ With customer service being pretty bad, someone who does a good job really stands out. I do write letters when service is horrid, what can I do when service is good?

A: The same thing! When you experience good customer service you should write a letter of appreciation to the person and/or their manager. Letters of appreciation are a wonderful way of saying thank you, a good motivator and can be the basis for promotion. Do let people know you noticed they were doing a good job.