Authentic customer-focused service seems to be becoming a rarity. When I work with clients whose primary work function is customer service, the expected qualities become apparent, but anecdotally, the experience of the customer is often quite different.
The core element of customer service is communication. To deliver consistent, quality customer service, you need to be able to communicate effectively with others, adapt your communication style to better connect with the diverse customer group that you are dealing with and be able to provide advice and recommendations.
Listening skills are vital to your ability to communicate and this includes paying attention to vocal tone, body language and micro expressions as well as understanding what they are saying to you, in order to identify what the customer needs and what their expectations are.
If you are listening to your customer, you will be able to respond more appropriately and this builds a solid foundation for you to begin to develop a professional relationship with them.
Whether they are a once-off transaction customer, or a local who frequently engages with your work, making a customer feel understood and heard will create a positive customer service experience that they are likely to discuss with their friends and ultimately, could bring more business in.
On the other side of the coin, making a customer feel like they are interrupting you, irritating you with their questions or are unwanted (especially when an error has been made and the customer has sought to resolve the issue), is going to net the opposite response.
There is one word that lies at the heart of customer service that many people who fulfil this role don’t pay attention to.
Making a customer feel understood and heard will create a positive customer service experience.
That word is accountability. Whether your customer is thrilled with their purchase or not, being accountable to ensuring that the customer ultimately walks away satisfied is the very cornerstone of the job description.
Customers want to feel like they have received value for money whether they are buying a sandwich or a new computer.
The actual cost doesn’t matter with regards to customer service expectations – it’s all about making the customer feel like their dollar hasn’t been wasted and that their patronage has been appreciated.
I have experienced a variety of customer service experiences that spans the full spectrum from outstanding (and I want to tell all my friends) to disgraceful (and I want to tell all my friends).
The difference between the two ends of this spectrum has nothing to do with the product being purchased and everything to do with the service I experienced while purchasing the item.
Being made to feel welcome and valued as a customer ensures that I will return to that business over and over again, look for opportunities to purchase from them and share the experience with my network (and even upon occasion, tell their head office what an amazing experience I had).
From a jewellery store to a chemist, coffee shop to a large department store, I have met amazing, genuine, engaged customer service personnel who have well and truly won my business through simple things like remembering my name, greeting me with a genuine smile and demonstrating that they will do whatever they can to try and meet my purchasing needs.
I return to these businesses again and again regardless of whether I can purchase the item I’m after somewhere else for less, because I appreciate the relationships that I have built with people in these businesses.
The way a person in customer service handles complaints speaks volumes about their service commitment.
Having worked in a fast-paced customer service environment myself, I know how easy it can be to fall into the routine of processing orders and transactions, while rolling out the rote greetings that noticeably jar when you realise what you just said didn’t make sense as a response to how the customer had greeted you.
It’s easy to focus on the mechanics of the task and overlook the importance of saying “I’m sorry” when things go wrong, rather than focusing on painting themselves as blameless.
The customer service professionals who stand out are those who listen, smile and genuinely engage because they “do” actually care about delivering meaningful service to our community.
Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer and coach at impressability.com.au