The Lost Art Of Customer Service

Oct. 9, 2014

There’s something missing from many of today’s service businesses. Sincerity and personal attention – most commonly lumped into a category of customer service. This is happening everywhere. You can hear it in the voice of the scripted customer relations specialist that answers the help desk phone. You know the one I mean, with the right words, but whose tone conveys she would rather be anywhere else but on the phone with you. Or the teenager running the cashier station at a big-box store who stares at you when you actually answer his “Did you find everything you were looking for today?” query.

Maybe it’s that price and discounts are so important to today’s consumer. Maybe it’s a lack of long-term employees. Maybe it’s because everyone is so busy to notice niceties, or the lack thereof. Whatever the reason core pieces of customer service seem to be ebbing in large, national brand stores, it is still one of the most important elements of a small business.

Family values

As many of you know, my husband owns a small, family business. While not vending, it is customer focused.  Two thirds of his new employee training is centered on customer service. He begins with three steps - listen, relate and reiterate.

Listening to the customer seems like an obvious one, but it’s hard for new employees to do sometimes because it means they can’t interrupt. Let the customer finish, so you understand the whole issue. Only then are you able to relate to the customer. Maybe it’s a simple “I understand,” or “I would feel frustrated by that as well” — it just needs to convey that the employee empathizes with the customer. Finally, the employee should reiterate the issue. When the employee repeats the complaint, problem or request back to the customer, he or she immediately feels heard. 

The most important part of his training — with an entire section dedicated to it — is offering a resolution. He tells employees they must always offer help, not blame. This one can be hard for new employees especially when dealing with a complaint. The first reaction by the employee might be to make it clear it is the customer’s fault, not their own. But instead of placing blame, listening, relating and reiterating followed by a mutually acceptable solution provides a much better customer experience.

For example, recently a customer was annoyed that an item wasn’t available when they came in for a party. Instead of the employee saying the customer should have called ahead to verify or reserve the item, the employee nodded. He empathized that it can be very frustrating when we don’t have the piece someone wants. He explained that the staff tried their best, but wasn’t able to get it delivered in time for the party. He offered to find a similar piece for the customer at the same price.

Producing a solution is so very important when dealing with a complaint. So many people simply walk away without comment, but harbor a negative view of a business. When a person actually shares the problem, it can be a good thing, because it gives the employee the opportunity to make things better.

Sales speak to level of service

I’ve always been impressed with the level of customer satisfaction his business receives. Great help and a fun atmosphere are the most often mentioned comments in online reviews. While other similar businesses have come and gone, for more than 10 years his business has thrived, through the recession and tight times. It is a fun place, but it is his dedication to bringing personal attention, sincere resolutions and constantly training his staff on how to relate to people on the job that really sets his business apart. Vending, micro market and office coffee service drivers and service technicians are no different. They have a job to do, but the better trained they are at handling customers, the better reputation your company will have. Don’t just pay lip-service to your quality customer service, but have a detailed training program in place with reviews and rewards for excellence.   

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