Best Practices for Dealing With Customers

Aug. 15, 2007
The work place is more diverse due to demographic changes in society. Best practices for service personnel must be reconsidered.

Tony did exactly as he was trained. He greeted his customer warmly by name. However, the customer seemed to get more and more distant every time he heard Tony say his name.

How could something as well intentioned as using a customer’s name create such a negative reaction? As it turns out, Tony’s customer was a very formal person and when Tony referred to him as “Bob” instead of Mr. Zizka, he felt disrespected.

This is a common occurrence in business these days. The American work place includes a wide scope of individuals who have a variety of preferences. People don’t all want to be treated the same way. It isn’t easy for even the best intentioned service person to know how to treat all of the people he or she interacts with.

There are many companies that train employees to follow certain rules for how to treat customers. However, many employers do not understand the subtleties and contexts involved in interpersonal communications. Companies that don’t fully understand the complexities involved in customer service run the risk of sending the wrong messages.

Here are some rules that will meet the expectations of the vast majority of people that a vending or coffee service route driver will come into contact with, as well as some pointers about when to break these rules and use alternative best practices.

Rule 1: Always use the customer’s name

Human relations author Dale Carnegie said, “The sweetest sound in any language is the sound of one’s own name.” Although it may be true that using a customer’s name can create a sense of intimacy, it can also have the opposite effect, as it did in Tony’s case.

Watch out for the following mistakes:

1) Using the customer’s name too often. “Well Bob, you can see that this is the perfect solution for your business, don’t you agree Bob? After all, Bob, studies have shown this to be true. And Bob...”

Overusing the customer’s name may make them uncomfortable. It can seem like an insincere gimmick rather than a true connection.

2) Mispronouncing the customer’s name. Some people have names that are hard to pronounce or have an unusual pronunciation.
In either case, it is always good to ask the proper way to pronounce the name. Once you’ve heard the proper pronunciation, it is essential that you use it correctly.

Customers may forgive you for not saying it right, but it will still grate on your customer’s nerves to hear his or her name spoken wrong repeatedly.

3) Being too formal or informal when using a customer’s name. Some people prefer to use their name; some prefer an honorific such as “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” “Miss,” “Ms.,” “Ma’am,” “Sir,” etc.

It is far more respectful to start off by being formal and letting your customer tell you their preference. Hence, the best practice for using the customer’s name is as follows:

Use your customer’s name in a way that shows respect and begins to build rapport.

Rule 2: Always shake your customer’s hand

For decades, sales and service people have been taught to shake hands in order to connect and build trust and rapport with their customers. However, there are a number of situations where offering a handshake can create more tension than trust. The reasons for this are as follows:

1) Cultural issues. There are many cultures and religions in which handshaking is either forbidden or considered rude. If you are dealing with a multi-cultural customer base, learn all you can about the appropriate ways to greet and welcome them.

2) Social anxiety. For some people, the mere thought of having to shake hands creates a level of tension that can ruin the entire interaction.

3) People with compromised immune systems. In 1918, the town of Prescott, Ariz., outlawed handshaking to attempt to slow down the spread of the flu epidemic.

Many people have been told by their doctors that they should not shake hands in order to protect their fragile immune systems. There are also perfectly healthy people who are afraid of the germs that can be transmitted by a handshake.

Because of these reasons, the best practice for shaking hands needs to be revised.

Instead of initiating the handshake, it is better to wait until your customer makes the first move. Keep your arms relaxed, but ready to respond. If they start to shake your hand, you can easily reach out and grasp their hand in return.

Rule 3: Always be approachable and personable

Although it is an important part of your job to seem approachable, watch out for the following problems:

1) Getting caught up in lengthy conversation. When you start an extended conversation, you take your customer away from his or her work as well as keeping you from doing your job quickly and efficiently.

2) Starting a conversation that is too personal. Some people will want to use you as their personal sounding board or confidante, or perhaps you share parts of your life that shouldn’t be shared with a customer.

The best practice for being approachable is as follows:

Be personable without being too personal. Listen to your customer and let them know that you are there to answer any business concern that they may have.

Rule 4: Follow the Golden Rule

From the time we are children, we have been taught to follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The intent of this rule is good, however, following this rule can create a number of problems.

1) Treating your customer in a way that makes them uncomfortable. It is somewhat egocentric to assume that your customer always has the same wants and desires that you do.

For example, if you are a gregarious person who likes lots of conversation and connection, you risk pushing your customer away if that kind of treatment makes them uneasy.

2) Missing an opportunity to surprise and delight. When you use yourself as a reference about what would impress your customer, you lose the ability to be nimble and creative.

When you listen carefully to your customer, he or she will give you clues about what you can do to go the extra mile.

Use the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

The bottom line to all these rule breakers and best practices is to keep your customer service personal. Don’t just follow the rules; choose the best way to apply them to meet and exceed your customer’s needs.

Laurie Brown is an international trainer and consultant who works to help people
improve their sales, service and presentation skills. She is the author of: The Telemprompter Manual for Executives, Politicians, Broadcasters and Speakers. She can be reached at 877-999-3433 or at [email protected].