In my search for a career that involved my own office and the ability to tell others to leave me the hell alone (writers can do that apparently, people chalk it up to being “artsy”) I worked in a lot of different jobs. Most of them, believe it or not, involving customer service to one degree or another. The benefit to this is I now know what good customer service is and can give it. The drawback, however, is I now know what good customer service is and I want it. This means that I don’t cut a lot of slack for those guys on the other end of the phone or the girl behind the counter. There is a certain minimum I demand and should have. With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of customer service dos and don’ts.

  1. Give the customer your undivided attention. The customer doesn’t care that you’re in the process of breaking up with your boyfriend or girlfriend and you just have to get this text out to that bastard/bitch NOW! Nor do we care that your kids are trying to flush the family dog down the toilet. That picture of the kitty from Lolcats is hilarious but we need something from you. The customer doesn’t want to be second place in your attention and if they are the least bit frustrated with your company to begin with, this will escalate the problem. Do your stuff on your time. Serve the customer on company time. It’s your job, after all.
  2. Stop eating, chewing, swallowing, drinking or other activities that involve your mouth that aren’t speaking. Nothing is worse than talking to Bessie the Cow as she chews her cud. The conversation sounds like this; “soI’m not surewhat yourproblemishere.” Lovely. Great diet tactic, though. After listening to this for two minutes it’ll make you lose your appetite.
  3. Actually pay attention to what’s being said. Guess what? The customer knows when you’re paying attention even if you’re on the phone. Nothing is more annoying than having to repeat yourself eight times to someone whose only contribution to the conversation is “huh” and “yeah”. The customer is paying for a service you’re supposed to be providing and if you’re not providing it they’re going to get cranky real quick.
  4. Speak the same language as the customer. There are customer service providers who provide service in a variety of languages. The most common being English, French (in Canada) and Spanish (in the United States). Some will go farther and provide service in other languages but those are the main ones. If you work for a company and the customer expects a certain language, please make sure you speak that language fluently. If you don’t, then please get another job. I was on the phone to a company in the United States (I’m in Canada) and was trying to explain a problem to a young man who didn’t speak english. He spoke Spanish and had a basic understanding level of English. Therefore, he had no idea about the technical terms I was using concerning the product. After five minutes of me explaining the problem he said to me, “<laugh> Oh, I don’t know, senora. I don’t speak English so good. You take care of it.” He then hung up on me. Well, the next call to the centre was considerably less civilized than the first had been.
  5. Be a positive representative for your company. Even if you hate your job, one of the things they are paying you for is to represent them in a positive manner. Nothing is worse than bad mouthing your employer to the customer. You might be commiserating with them, doesn’t matter. It’s unprofessional and uncalled for.
  6. The customer does not need to know the “goods” on the product or the person they may be calling about. Companies get defective goods all the time. A company may invest in a product that simply doesn’t work the way it should. It happens. As a representative of the company, it’s not up to you to let the customer know how badly that product is working for other customers. Saying you’ve gotten a dozen phone calls about the same thing doesn’t help and doesn’t make the company look good. Stop it. Similarly, customers complain about service they’re getting. You don’t need to dish out the dirt on any person or department (“oh, we’ve been getting calls about them/him/her”) to help the customer. No one likes a tattle tale.
  7. Listen and hear what the customer is saying. The customer wants to think they’re special. They may not be. You may have gotten this phone call six times in the past hour but you still need to make them feel they’re special. That means listening and hearing the customer. Listening is the ability to hear what the customer is saying and understand it. Hearing is the ability to listen to what the customer is not saying and make sense of it. The customer may say they’ve called several times on the same  problem. What they’re trying to get across to you is the problem is only one half of what’s going on; calling multiple times on the same issue is the other half. Hearing is an art and can be learned. It’s what separates good customer service from great.
  8. Ask questions. If you’re unsure of what the customer is saying or need further information, ask. The customer is willing to supply the answers (most of the time) and likes that you’re taking the time to really understand the situation. They don’t want any solution, they want the right solution.
  9. You don’t need to be right. Nothing escalates a problem further than “I’m right” thinking. Some of the worst customer service has come from people who are hell-bent on showing me that they’re right and I’m wrong in some manner. The customer doesn’t care. When you need to be right two things happen; first, you stop listening and hearing the customer. Second, you stop trying to find a solution. At this point it stops being customer service and starts being an argument. This can escalate things in a big hurry. Don’t go there.
  10. Stop escalating, start defusing. Customers get frustrated, cranky and angry for a variety of reasons. They don’t have to stay that way. Usually it’s a fairly simple fix to defuse a situation. The customer wants to know they’ve been heard and that there is a solution. The solution may not be the one they had in mind, but the fact that you’ve found an answer to their problem goes a long way. I have had customer service agents do something as simple as promising to email me a link to where to find the solution on their website. This makes me happy. They’ve found a solution and now I can go there at my convenience and get the answer. Situation defused.
  11. Don’t get too personal. The customer doesn’t want to tell you about their day or marriage. Asking about their kids/work/hobbies is none of your business. I had a waiter ask me if I was married. When I told him it was none of his business, he went on to lecture me about how marriage was a public thing and everyone should know if a person was married or not. Creepy. I was in an office where the receptionist saw a pentacle hanging off my necklace (I am Wiccan) and began asking me all sorts of questions about my religion. Time and place, people. These are personal things you don’t need to know. There’s a reason people talk about the weather.

Yes, there are a lot of suggestions here, but if you’re in customer service, please take them and post them so your coworkers can see them. As a customer, I don’t need or want to waste my time instructing you on good work ethics.

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