Last week, I went to Target. It was 5:30, the store was at its peak of busyness, and there was a torrential rainstorm. I was standing by my car with a cart full of laundry detergent, water bottles, toilet paper, and a tantruming toddler . . . the only thing I did not have was an umbrella.
Customer Service where you least expect it
I noticed a teenage stocker on a break in the parking lot, talking on the phone. He ended his call, came over to me, handed me his umbrella and said, “Ma’am, you help your son in and I will load the groceries in the back.”
A stocker is not in the customer service department, he does not even have a “customer-facing” position, and yet–that experience in the rainy parking lot is one I recounted to multiple friends, on social media, and now here: in this post.
Customer Service: nature or nurture?
I will never know if this young man’s “random act of kindness” was a personality trait or a lesson learned in corporate training. I won’t find out if he is always helpful or was paying something forward that day. I was so frazzled that I am not even sure if I thanked him. I definitely did not ask his name and am embarrassed to say, I did not report his helpfulness to anyone at Target (just to anyone else who would listen!).
I do know this, though: customer service skills are important in every employee, not just those who answer the “customer helpline.”
Opportunities to offer a unique customer experience avail themselves to each team member, everywhere, all the time. And often, the ones that are least expected are the ones that are most appreciated and can turn a regular customer into an evangelist.
Make sure everyone in your company develops these skills because you never know who will have an opportunity to give customers an experience that will improve their day (or their faith in humanity):
1. Patience in the face of impatience
The capacity to avoid anger or testiness, to treat customers with respect no matter how impatient they are, is a learned trait.
It comes from a core value of customer-centricity and a practice of depersonalizing situations to remove one’s own feelings from the equation. Teach your team that the quality of service they provide has a much grander effect than the speed at which they close cases.
Show them by having patience with them when they are upset and treating them like an extension of your customers. Because that is exactly what they are.
2. Active listening
Courses that teach customer service skills often teach communication skills - how to talk to irate customers, how to offer help; but they don’t always offer insight on how to listen. Active listening will make your customers feel validated and accepted. Do it by nodding to indicate understanding, making eye contact to show sincerity, and repeating their complaints in your own words.
When customer support interaction is online, you can listen actively by following up your interactions with a CSAT (customer satisfaction) survey. Then taking the time to thank customers for their response and follow up personally on any less-than-stellar responses.
3. EmpathyOne of the soft skills that is important to teach everyone on the team is empathy: to not only understand the facts, but also the emotion. Have employees run through a list of questions in their mind:
- How would I feel if I were in this customer’s shoes?
- If I had the same problem, how would I want a company employee to help?
- What would help me resolve the issue and be thankful to the company?
Being able to step into customers’ shoes and truly view situations from their point of view (rather than thinking about closing the case quickly or achieving target KPIs) is what turns good customer service into great customer service. And great customer service fosters customer loyalty.
Listening is good customer service; active listening is great customer service; but attentiveness is extraordinary customer service.
That is, reading between the lines and understanding not only what customers say, not only what they feel, but also what they mean. This can truly take your service to another level.
For example, if email recipients give you a :( to one specific email - it may not be the content of the email they are unhappy with, but rather the fact that is was the third email they received within 24 hours.
5. Taking responsibilityApologizing goes a long way. When something goes wrong, offer a sincere apology. Keys to making an apology sincere:
- Say “I’m sorry” as a personal apology from you, but indicate that you represent the entire company.
- Reiterate the problem and acknowledge the damage to the relationship.
- Explain what went wrong and take responsibility.
- Explain the steps you plan to make the situation right.
- Make it known that you will also take steps to ensure that it will not happen again.
- Ask for forgiveness
6. Calming influence
Serving customers is not just about keeping your own cool when things heat up; it is also about the ability to empathize and help customers to the point where they regain their own composure.
A customer will allow you to be their “rock” when they trust you. Show your trustworthiness by being honest, accepting responsibility, communicating appreciation (even for negative feedback), and truly having the customer’s best interests at heart.
In customer service, don’t look for shortcuts from A to B. Instead, look for the road which will make the customer truly happy to arrive at B. If it takes a little longer, that is OK. If it is different from a solution used for a similar case, that is OK too.
What matters is that you do whatever it takes to resolve the conflict and make the customer happy.
8. Conflict resolution
Problem-solving skills require creativity and the true definition of customer service is going beyond the “by the book” resolution options.
To do this, you must truly seek to understand the situation exactly as the customer sees it and work together to find possible solutions. Before taking action, communicate openly with the customer about your suggestion and ensure the proposed solution will indeed resolve the issue. Then, find a way to go “the extra mile” to not only resolve the conflict but turn the negative into a positive.
9. Turning a negative into a positive
Once you go through whatever it takes to resolve the complaint, and your apology is accepted, keep going above and beyond - send a follow up message, ask for feedback on the customer’s experience, and thank them for allowing you to turn their negative experience into a positive one.
10. Willingness to act on feedback
When a customer service case is closed, the story is not over. The lessons learned must be implemented and the experience must be shared internally (and, in some cases, externally too). By ensuring a similar situation does not reoccur, by learning from the encounter and changing our future ways–this is how we truly leverage customer service skills to empower our companies.
Making sure that every team member is committed to customer service comes from training them; but moreover, it comes from treating them like you expect them to be treated. This is like the Golden Rule of Customer Service (or, as Target may consider it: the Red Rule)!