Remember the good old days, way back when businesses treated you like you were actually important to them? When their employees recognized that you were vital to the company’s well-being and should be treated accordingly? Ah yes, days gone by.
While many companies still provide excellent customer service, more and more treat their customers as account numbers instead of people. Have you encountered employees who treat you like you’ve interfered with their lives because you’re simply looking for an item? They brush you off with “That’s not my department” or, my favorite, “I dunno.” You don’t know? You work here! I don’t know either but I don’t have the snappy embroidered shirt with the cool company logo on it to draw unsuspecting customers into my web of ignorance and frustration. Why wander the store, looking so helpful? Are you shopping too?
And of course, there’s the customer service strategy of having only one employee in the store manning the register. This employee multitasks enough to ring up customers while on the cell phone but can’t understand how a gift certificate works if you don’t use the exact amount on the card.
So where did customer service go and how can we get it back?
- Customer service entails more than just providing customers with a place to complain. It’s providing support, finding solutions, and showing that the customer’s well-earned money was spent with the right people.
- Customer service departments need to realize that customers are just as important after the sale as they are before they buy. Whether due to financial constraints, efficiency issues or plain lack of understanding their clients, businesses seem to focus less on serving the customer and more on the profit margin. Now profits are great; I’m all for profits. But many companies forget or ignore the fact that has direct impact on profits — especially future profits. You can’t get return business if no one wants to come again.
What can you do to get customer service back?
The first and most important thing: Be nice.
Remember, if someone is talking to a provider, it usually means something’s wrong. Rarely do people walk up to to hug you and tell you what a great job you’re doing. They have some sort of issue, great or small, and need help. So be nice. Be understanding. If you can see the issue through the customer’s eyes, you can usually understand how to correct the problem.
But how does one handle those loud, obnoxious customers who have “been to hundreds of stores across the country without being so mistreated,” customers who proclaim they will never come back, and so on? Their main goal is to be the squeaky wheel: No matter how small the problem, they carry on as though you have offended their family for generations to come. If at all reasonable, give them some oil and let them squeak somewhere else. But don’t let the occasional jerk of a customer throw you off your game. Try to maintain the “nice.”
Secondly, show some action.
Telling me you understand how upset I am that you overcharged my credit card by several decimal points doesn’t make me feel as appeased as I would if you stopped sympathizing and just reversed the charges. Customers generally calm down when they see you are actually trying to help them, not just talking about it. Make sure it’s an honest attempt; looking like you’re helping is not actually helping. Don’t leave customers on hold for an hour while you research the issue. Come back to the phone frequently, if for no other reason than to see if they’re still breathing. The longer they sit in silence while you try to help them, the more frustrating their experience will be.
Another thing to keep in mind is to find a solution.
Learn what the customer feels the solution should be and see whether it makes sense or matches a solution you have. The customer is not always right. In fact, customers rarely are. But by understanding the expected results, you can work your way as close to the customer’s expectations as possible. Customers demanding a free meal because the candle on the table was “too flickery” is a little extreme. But removing the candle as quickly as possible, away from the table populated with flick-intolerant crazy people, is not.
Customer service is not dead — at least not yet.
It may need some CPR, a cup of tea and a nap to recuperate, but it’s not dead. Companies just need to take time to show that they care about the customer’s problem and are actively trying to correct it and, if that doesn’t work, to see if an alternate solution can be found. Customers are your greatest asset. Without them, what have you got?