Sunday, July 22, 2012

Zen and the Art of Being Nice

You'd think that being nice would be a common human condition, especially in customer service, but the fact is that "nice" is hard to find these days and it's a shame, because I firmly believe that a "little sugar goes a long way" when it comes to delivering customer service.

For example, the other day I was in a chain hair salon waiting my turn for a hair cut.  It frustrates me that it seems like the stylists always go on break right before my turn (and I believe I'm a decent tipper and a quick cut so I don't think they're trying to avoid me) and this last time was no exception.  Just as it was my turn, she grabbed her cell and headed to the back room. I waited...and waited...and waited.  By the time she returned I was frustrated, had almost walked out, and was determined to leave a poor tip.  But you know what?  She came back, apologized for the delay, and explained the nature of her phone call -- her younger brother, who was supposed to pick up her daughter from day care, was stuck in traffic and may be late picking her up.  I could relate to that.  I've had children in day care before and if you don't pick them up before closing time, the day care charges you extra for the delay and if they don't hear from the parent after a short amount of time, they call the authorities.  It's not pretty and I completely understood.  Total redemption.

Contrast that with a hair stylist who would have come back and, without a word, started to cut my hair.  Big difference isn't it?  And what did the first hair stylist gain by cutting my hair?  A pleasant experience (came to find out her younger brother actually went to school with my daughter and I was facebook friends with her parents!) and a bigger tip.  Good customer service pays.

So in a nutshell, try to take care of your customer right away, but if you can't:

1) Apologize for the delay.
2) Explain, if appropriate, the delay.

Some customer service professionals might scoff at the idea of sharing personal information with customers.  You don't have to go into detail, a simple "Sorry, family emergency" or "Sorry, my boss wanted to speak with me" will suffice and will certainly be better than ignoring the fact you left your customer hanging.  We are all human and we understand.  No, not everyone will. but that's on them, not you.

Tashi Delek!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Is Consistency the Key to Successful Customer Service?

There are a lot of "secrets" to customer service: smiles, asking open-ended questions, paraphrasing what the customer is saying, thanking them for their business, and so on and so forth ad nauseam.  But honestly, without consistency it's all a waste of time.

Imagine this:  A customer late with their cell phone payment calls to make arrangements just as they did three months ago only to be told no, that can't be done. "Have you changed your policy?" the customer asks. "No, it's always been that way," the customer is told.  The customer pushes back, claiming it's done before, but is told that there is no record of that conversation.

How do you think the customer is feeling?  A bit of frustration?  You bet.  Now, there could be many reasons something like this happens -- maybe the customer was wrong, maybe the previous rep explained the policy wrong, or -- more likely -- one of the two representatives is wrong, which is completely unacceptable.  Or, worse yet, maybe both representatives knew the policy but one of them didn't want to apply it -- either the first didn't want to upset the customer by not accepting the late payment or the second knew they could take a late payment, but didn't want to be bothered by the extra work.

I work at a local health club with a very strict guest policy -- ID required and all guests must be accompanied by a member.  However, many of the associates working the front desk do not enforce that policy so where does that leave others?  For those associates trying to enforce the policy they are greeted with more resistance and upset guests -- and members. For the members and guests it means they don't know from one day to the next whether or not they'll be allowed in.  Managers are then forced to reconcile these problems leaving them with, frankly a mess.  A situation in which they either have to uphold the policy or appease the guest.

If a company has a policy it must be enforced -- consistently.  And if exceptions are allowed, the parameters by which exceptions can be made must be made clear to both staff and customers.  Managers and supervisors play a very important role in enforcing these policies but frankly, there are those who, just like the representative who does not wish to enforce the policy on their own, do not want to be bothered by the situation.

Yes, there are many "keys" to successful customer service, but without consistency, nothing else really matters.

Tashi Delek!