Customer Service Training:
Good Customer Service Skills

We hear a lot about "good customer service."  What is it anyway? 

To me, it is a company or an individual who has an attitude of wanting to help solve a problem.  When I call my cell phone provider, my cable television provider, my Internet service provider or my credit card company, I want to talk to someone who can help me solve whatever issue caused me to reach out to them.  If I am ordering something, I want to be able to understand what I am buying, figure out how to place an order easily, then be able to find out the status of my order if I have questions.  If there is a problem later, I want to know how to get it resolved.  I think I’m a reasonable person; I try to be polite and respectful when I call someone for assistance.  I expect to talk with reasonable helpful people when I call someone. 

An example of good customer service: Yesterday I dropped my digital camera as I started to take pictures of flowers in my yard.  I was devastated since the camera hit the concrete driveway and bounced.  The camera didn’t work very well after that.  My heart sank and I felt clumsy, berating myself for letting that accident happen with such an expensive item.  When I could finally get my brain thinking again after the shock, I went to the camera manufacturer’s website and found very good information about how to ship the camera back to be repaired.  I was starting to feel just a little bit hopeful.  There was a form available on the website with their camera repair 800 number on it; it said their repair support hours were 8 - 5 PM Monday – Friday, East Coast time.  Since it was after that time on a Friday evening before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, it would appear that there should be no one there to ask my question; I almost didn’t call.

Then, I figured, what would it hurt to make the call, thinking perhaps there would be a recording verifying that I could ship my camera for repair even though the problem was my fault, not a warranty issue.  Much to my surprise, I did reach a real live person who indeed verified that I could follow the instructions and ship my camera back to them for repair.  That phone call saved me several days of wondering in anguish and the camera is now on its way to be repaired.  And, after talking to a real person, I'm no longer feeling so devastated about the camera. 

In this case, the camera company (Olympus America) gave me much better service than I expected.  Their website provided clear instructions about how to get repairs, which I had hoped to find there.  In addition, they provided a fill-in-the-blanks printable form to include with my camera and I was able to reach a real person to ask my questions.  Because of that positive interaction, I’m willing to tell others about my experience.  Going above and beyond what is expected is what makes great customer service.

How does my example compare with your last experience of calling someone for assistance?  Did you get what you were expecting?  Did you get more than you were expecting or less?  Did you hang up feeling better or did you hang up feeling worse?

Attitude affects career success

What if you are thinking that you don’t have "customers" in your line of work?  Think again.  Everyone has someone who needs their help at some time.  Maybe you don't deal directly with outside customers.  If you manage employees, they can be viewed as your customers.  Your executive and management peers are customers of your services.  Business people in other departments or divisions are customers of your services.  Your own manager is a customer of your services.

It is a well-known fact that how you treat people directly affects your own career success.  If you have a positive attitude and try to help when asked, you will have much more support when you need help.  People will come to you more easily and want to work with you to resolve issues.  If you are always too busy, too critical or too demanding when someone asks you for something, you will find people going elsewhere.  When it is time for promotions or good assignments, you will not be high on the list.  And, you may not even realize why you are being passed by or passed over.

The difference between good customer service and bad customer service is often a single word: Attitude!   More than any other single factor, a positive attitude makes the difference.

Someone with a positive attitude will attempt to help, even if they don’t have all the answers.  They will find someone to help or will seek out an answer.  People notice that.

Someone with a poor attitude or a negative attitude will see a request for help as a bother or something that interferes with their "real" work.  And, again, people will notice that type of attitude as well.

A One Question Interview

More examples: Someone was being considered for a job where I work.  They had been interviewed by a panel of people to check out their technical skills and had been recommended as the leading candidate.  When I had the chance to interview him before a job offer was made, I had a series of questions to ask.  The first one was, "What do you like most about this type of job?"  The person’s answer: "Helping people and solving their problems."  He simply glowed with enthusiasm when he answered.  I didn’t need to ask any of the other questions I had planned.  I knew that his positive attitude would more than make up for any initial adjustments needed in his new job.

I interviewed with the CEO of a large well-known company once.  His one question to me was, "What is the most important skill needed to be successful in this job?"  My answer: "A good sense of humor!"  He offered me the job as it was a very stressful takeover position and desperately needed someone with a positive attitude. 

Yesterday, a friend of mine told me a similar story.  She had gone to check out a job ad, without being dressed for a formal interview, just expecting to pick up an application.  The person she talked with was so impressed by her upbeat positive attitude that she got the job and started working the next day.  I know others who have had similar experiences. 

As a manager, I've learned that people with a good positive attitude and a desire to learn will do far better in a job than someone who already has the technical skills with a less positive attitude.  I've seen many employees be successful in this way.

One manager and I had a  discussion about what makes a good employee and I shared my belief that a positive attitude is more important than technical skills.  A few months later, he was trying to fill an open position left by someone who had been very technically competent yet received poor marks for customer service.  Instead of looking just at technical skills, he hired someone who had less technical skills, a positive attitude and who was committed to learning the technical skills needed.  He has never regretted that decision to hire attitude over skills and his entire department is now viewed in a very positive light.  People are working well together now, where before there was constant dissention. 

Even governments need good customer service

Many government agencies are reaching out to their customers — the taxpayers — to provide better services.  Even the IRS — long accused of poor customer service skills — has been trying to change their image and provide better customer services in recent years. 

Example: I went to our local post office today to mail my camera in for repair and noticed that they proudly display their "mystery shopper" ratings for all customers to see.  I had never noticed that display before.  On a busy Saturday morning with only one person working, the line was moving quickly and the lone postal worker was pleasant and efficient with everyone so I could see how they got their good ratings.  There are private mail service stores nearby yet people choose to do business at this post office because of the good service there. 

Many companies are using "Mystery Shoppers" solely to rate their customer service skills.  How well you provide service with any single customer might be a reflection of your entire company if that customer turns out to be a mystery shopper.  Being acknowledged for good customer service reinforces and encourages the staff to keep up the good work.

The Power of the Internet

With today’s electronic capabilities and widespread Internet serviced, companies and government have many more opportunities than ever to provide good customer service.  They can provide useful websites, downloadable articles and forms, and even fancy interactive programs.  They can send follow-up e-mails to rate their support services.  They can use website feedback forms to solicit comments from their customers.  They can also use the older ways of getting feedback: telephone, direct mail and surveys.  The Internet has provided many wonderful new ways to give better customer services and a wealth of resources for improving. 

The availability of the Internet has truly changed the ability of companies and governments to expand their services to a worldwide marketplace.  How well a website describes a company and their services is a clue to how they perceive themselves and how they perceive their customers.  If a website is hard to use, confusing or does not provide useful information, the company can lose a great deal of business because they appear not to respect their customer and their customer’s needs.  If the website is easy to use and customers feel that they can find what they need, their opinion of the company grows and customers are more likely to purchase goods or services there.

Example: Amazon is another customer service focused company.  They make searching their website easy, they remember who you are when you return, they remember your last searches, they make purchasing products simple and they occasionally send reminders of new books that you might enjoy.  And, their books usually arrive very quickly.  Of all the products I have purchased from Amazon, I’ve only had to send one back and that was my fault for ordering the wrong version.  I was able to return it easily and painlessly.

Tips for Good Customer Service

Example: After the post office, I went to a local florist to get flowers for a celebration event.  As soon as I entered the store, the store clerk said "Hello and welcome."  As I decided what I wanted and got in line, she said, "I’ll be right with you as soon as I finish up with this customer."  I felt appreciated and was willing to wait my turn patiently.  I will go there first the next time I need flowers. 

What are some other things that add up to good service?  Some examples:

Answer the phone and/or provide a relatively quick and easy way for people to contact you with questions.  Ask, "How can I help you?"
Provide your name to the customer so they know who they are talking to.
Ask for the customer’s name and phone number so you can call back if disconnected for follow-up.
Treat the customer with respect.  Treat them as if they are the most important thing going on in your world right now.
Ask clarifying questions to determine the nature of the issue that is being discussed.
Take time to understand the customer’s issue before offering suggestions for resolving the issue.
Be patient and compassionate.  Remember that the customer called because they have a problem they need solved.  The customer is often stressed and seeking help from an expert.  You are that expert.
After giving information, double-check to make sure the instructions or next steps are clearly understood by the customer.
Say "thank you" — for calling, for coming to the store, for visiting the website or for purchasing the product or service.
Ask if there is anything else you can help while you are talking.
The company or organization you work for may be judged by your response to a single customer.  You could be talking to the company president or the government agency head without realizing it.  You could be talking to the next big client of your company, someone on the board of directors, the next president or your own next boss.  You could be talking to someone like me yesterday - who just had a very unfortunate accident and needed help.   You could make someone's day much better just by being helpful. 

Working with Internal Customers

What if you are a local company Help Desk or other internal support person?  Do these tips apply to you?  Absolutely! 

While your customers many not have many any other alternatives, they certainly can make your life miserable if you give bad service, which will eventually come back to you. 

And, if you give good service, they will also find ways to tell you about their pleasure.

Are people born with customer service skills?

A consultant once said that people are either born with a customer service attitude or they are not.  While I’m not sure I ascribe to that theory, I have noticed a distinct difference in how some people approach their job.  Even people who regularly provide terrible customer service sometimes think they do much better than they do.  They are often highly offended to hear a customer complaint or a suggestion how they can do better.  People who provide good customer service are always trying to do a better job and will take to heart any suggestions from customers; they encourage good feedback and are rarely offended by it.

For some people, there does seem to be some innate ability to help or perhaps they have had the right training to bring out their original aptitude.  Whichever it is, I hope if you are in a line of work where you treat your customers with respect and give them good customer service that you realize the valuable service you provide and that you are rewarded for it.  If you do not give good service, I hope you will either get training to be better or find a line of work where you do not have to interact with people all day.

The Bottom Line

Example: When I am shopping for a product or service, the deciding factor for me is the quality of the customer service.  If I do not get good service when I inquire about a product or service, I go elsewhere to purchase regardless of price.  No discount can make up for bad service in my opinion.  I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

How is your attitude today?  The next time you are talking with someone, pay attention to the quality of their customer service - are they being helpful or frustrating?  Pay attention to your own skills - are you being polite and patient, or overly demanding?  If the other person is a "mystery shopper," how would they rate you on customer service skills?   Take time to think about how you can improve. 

There are plenty of resources listed that provide opportunities to practice good customer service for yourself, your team, your company or your organization.


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Customer Service Training:
Good Customer Service Skills

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