The Dying Art of Customer Service

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It seems like we've become such an instant-gratification world that no one has the patience to be good customers or good customer service representatives.  Bad customer service practices run rampant everywhere, and it's not just one-sided, either.

From the prospective of the employees

Customers are rude, want things their way, and they often conveniently "forget" the rules.  In retail, returns without receipts and a demand of recompense are expected after the major holidays.  What with all the cons out there who actually sometimes attempt to return empty boxes in exchange for their money back, is it any wonder we take extra measures to ensure that we are being treated fairly?  In other industries, customers gladly complain about the slights they receive - even if it's of their own doing, and no fault of the company - while they bash company policies and bad mouth us to everyone they know.  Consequently, we lose out on business, or we have a negative reputation talked about on the news.  While no company gains 100% customer satisfaction, there are those that do try their best to make customers happy, important, and vindicated.  So yes, there are bad employees, but there are also ones in training that you have to take into consideration.  Sadly, good help can be hard to find, and not every boss out there is effective.  Management can be lax if they are more self-serving than looking to properly train the employees and boost morale.  But at the same time, give us a break - computers do fail, notes can accidentally get lost.  Emails can go unnoticed.  And yes, sometimes the company is too busy to care because they have to worry about making payroll.  You'd feel the same if you were in our shoes.

From the prospective of the customer

Is it too much to ask that when going to a store, the staff greet me in a friendly manner?  Or how about when I have a question about a product?  I think it's reasonable to expect the staff to be knowledgeable in what they're doing, otherwise why are they working there?  My biggest pet peeve is when I am at the register, though.  Every clerk should make eye contact and greet a customer.  That is a simple form of etiquette.  Failure to do so - and for the clerk to carry on a conversation with other staff members while processing my transaction - is downright rude!  Why do I want to keep shopping at your store if you don't acknowledge or value my sale?  Yet, this is happening more and more.  And don't get me started on automated phone choices when I call my mortgage company, insurance company, or even utilities!  It can be a long, drawn-out process and sometimes I am hung-up on.  It is very annoying and I would prefer to do something else with my time.  But you people hold me up!  It makes me not have trust in anyone.

Ways to improve customer service

Whether you work for a company, or are a consumer, you can practice good customer service as part of your day when communicating with others.  Unless you are holed up at home, you are bound to need to utilize some level of customer service skills - problem solving, providing information, or merely just greeting people.  Some people were meant to be great orators.  They put you at ease, convey information concisely, and leave you feeling appreciated.  They tend to be outgoing, knowledgeable, and friendly.  But even if you are an introvert, you can still be pleasant to talk to by following these simple rules:

  • Be helpful.  If you see someone in need, why not see what you can do to help?  It doesn't take a genius to hold open a door to someone who has his/her arms full of paperwork, or cheer up someone who looks like work stress is getting to him/her.  And if ever you're unsure of what is the best thing to do to help, just ask.  Even if that person says you don't need to help, your effort will still be appreciated and remembered.  The bonus is that you may improve your relationship with others, become more comfortable with yourself, or even have your deeds follow you so that you earn a raise or promotion at work.
  • Be friendly.  A smile, a wave, making eye contact - these are all not hard to do.  While you can avoid talking to certain people if you really want to, you have to talk to someone at some point.  In some cases, you may have to fake it, but it is better to be friendly than to be rude and start a conflict that can quickly go over your head.  Say hello to store clerks, mail carriers, or people standing in line with you, to name a few.
  • Actively listen.  Most people, when they talk, desire to be heard.  Not only do you have to look at the person speaking to you, but make some sort of acknowledgment - more than just nodding your head.  Being able to restate what the other person has told you, or responding to specific questions, really goes a long way to building effective communication.  Just saying stray comments or meaningless small-talk doesn't do a lot, because such things can be said without you even really paying attention to everything that the other person just stated.  This gets particularly annoying if as a customer representative, you ask the very question for which the customer already gave you the answer ahead of time.

 

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