Using the techniques I have seen so beautifully executed, some of the service encounters I’ve had were legendary. They were a real lesson for anybody interested in delivering that exceptional level of service we all hope to receive.
I will give you my top ten list, and then elaborate on some of the finer points of service quality. The list is in no particular order of importance, after all every service encounter is important, isn’t it?
- Never look the customer in the eye
- Avoid customers who look like they may need help
- Make the customer thank you before ending the transaction
- Find more important things to do when the customer comes near
- Express exasperation at customers stupidity and ignorance
- Never tell the customer more than they need at that moment
- Avoid answering the phone so you can do more important things
- Never let a customer interaction interrupt your personal calls and texts
- Quote policy and stand your ground
- Make it clear the customer has no choice but to deal with you
However, all these examples have given me ample fodder for service training. While most service training tends to be positive, and rightly too, sometimes making an example of what is not acceptable is specific and more effective for some staff. At least they’ll know its poor service. After all, how do we get youngsters interested in the dangers of drink driving? We show them a vehicle that was destroyed in an accident.
In some respects I’m glad summer is over now. I feel sure winter will yield a much warmer and caring service. Otherwise I’m thinking of never buying anything ever again, except the essentials.
It’s really not that hard, for staff or most importantly for managers. We teach that customers only want to have their need met and to feel good about the transaction. That’s it! Simple, stunningly simple.
So let’s look in a little deeper as to what nuggets we can use to design better service experiences.
- Never look the customer in the eye.
Looking someone in the eye means you care, regardless of how simple or quick the interaction. It is best to look at customers’ feet, bag, clothing or even their hair, but just avoid those eyes. Try to look like you are thinking great thoughts and really don’t have time for the mundane needs of the customer before you. A particularly excellent example occurred in supermarket where, on checking out with over 100 items, the cashier was able to do the entire transaction, including running the debit card and saying ‘thank you’ without looking at me throughout. Amazing coordination and tenacity there, in fact I’m not sure that I could even do that. The prime rule – never engage in conversation otherwise the customer may enjoy it, come back and disturb you again.
- Avoid customers who look like they may need help.
You’re at work so its right to look busy. If a customer is loitering or looking lost make sure you look very busy and make it quite clear that you are not to be interrupted. Under no circumstances ask if they need help because that just invites problems that may have to be solved. Move out of the way if you can, preferably to an area just out of sight and certainly out of earshot. Was that the customer who said something? No problem, you can never hear properly while you are walking away so you’re covered. If the customer does find you and pester you, pretend you didn’t hear the first time (you’re working on something important right). After all, if the customer really wants help they’ll ask again.
- Make the customer thank you before ending the transaction.
You know, all these customers have nothing better to do than walk around looking to buy something or to get something serviced, but you have given up your valuable time to go to work. Make sure the customer thanks you before you end a transaction in fair recognition of your sacrifice. Hold the receipt a little longer and wait, most especially if a tip is expected. If there is still no response from the customer, this might be a time to break rule 1 and look them sternly in the eye with an expectant glare so they quite firmly get the idea you’re waiting on them for something.
- Find more important things to do when the customer comes near.
There is a queue for service and there are two people serving customers. The queue is taking about 5 minutes to get through. There is one other cash register not in use. A perfect time to straighten the boxes on the table behind, replace loose items back on the shelves or racks just in case other customers need them – after all these in the queue have already stopped shopping so let them wait.
In one marvellous case, a customer asked a bus driver if his was the number 81 bus. The driver said he didn’t know and started plugging away at the controls on the bus. Two minutes later the electronic display on the bus beamed ‘81’. When asked why he could not have said it was going to be the 81, the driver simply said he didn’t know back then. Of course, don’t waste effort. Why answer the customers question when the bus makes it owns decisions on where it’s going. Clearly this was totally out of his hands, wasn’t it?
- Express exasperation at customers stupidity and ignorance.
Sometimes customers are just unbelievable. You gave them terms and conditions in 37 pages of small print and they didn’t memorise them, or perhaps even read them? Also, the product or service you are giving is so simple even a child could work it out. Didn’t they read the instructions and see the diagrams that required a contortionist to assemble the finished unit? Make sure you show the customer while clearly pointing out that you can’t believe their level of stupidity and lack of coordination. If you can actually say ‘it’s so simple’ or ‘this is child’s play’ while helping them it adds to the effect. If the item now no longer works, make absolutely sure the customer knows it was their fault and in the slight chance that you’ll be able to remedy the situation, they should be very grateful for the effort you will have to go through to help them out.
- Never tell the customer more than they need at that moment.
Many transactions are quite complicated and take several steps to complete, sometimes over several days. A bank transfer or an online order for example. These processes are far too complicated for mere customers to understand so rather than set a real expectation, tell them that it will take two days. Don’t tell them it will take two days to process, three days to send, one day for delivery and the confirmation will come the following week. If they get worried, they will call a different customer service number anyway and you won’t have to deal with it.
When announcing a delay of a flight, the gate staff said the inbound aircraft had landed and that the flight would depart in 25 minutes from now. Never mind the aircraft takes 10 minutes to come to the gate, 10 minutes to disembark passengers, 10 minutes to clean and 30 minutes to load the assembled throng around you. But the electronic board said 25 minutes so better not contradict that. Then, 25 minutes later, a further 25 minute delay was announced – who knew?
- Avoid answering the phone so you can do more important things.
How can customers have the nerve? They can’t even be bothered to leave home and they’re pestering you. If you answer the call, you may have to go and find something they want and that’s the customers’ job not yours. Oh, they’re calling because your website doesn’t list your opening hours - well the hours are about the same as other places so can’t they just take a shot? If you had the time you’d notify the web team to fix that, but they sometimes act like customers too with difficult questions like “which web page?” Or is the information there on the page but just too small to see without an electron microscope? Better to leave it be and cause all that fuss. One way to show nearby customers you care is by letting them see you ignoring the phone so you can stay at your station in case someone comes with a question. However if they do come closer, quickly pick up the phone as it will probably take less overall effort in the end.
- Never let a customer interaction interrupt your personal calls and texts.
You have a life. Your friends and family have a life too. Now that you can communicate 24x7x365.25 you must have your devices set to see what’s going on. See if you can keep reading and responding while helping the customer before you. Great, you’ve given them a form to fill out, perfect time to catch up on a Tweet or a text, rather than fill it out or to help them answer the questions. Hopefully they won’t have any silly questions about the form. If it’s close to closing time, remind the customer of that fact, twice, so you have time to text forty-eight of your closest friends and let them know you’ll soon be out, especially as you leave at exactly the same time every single day.
- Quote policy and stand your ground.
So, the customer had 72 hours to return an item if it was defective and here they are in front of you. The serious problem is that its 72 hours and 5 minutes after purchase – you checked the microscopic date on the receipt to make sure of it. What to do? First call a supervisor who is somewhere hidden and ask. No luck, try a manager? Easy for them to say no when they’re not facing the customer. So tell the customer that you are really sorry but the terms are 72 hours and they are clearly over the limit – almost 15 minutes over by now. What, there was traffic that delayed them coming in? Tell them they clearly should have allowed more time for the journey to make sure they met your terms. Whatever happens, quote the policy, stand your ground thus establishing that the customer is 100% responsible for the problem.
- Make it clear the customer has no choice but to deal with you.
This service aspect was hard to fathom at first, but I persevered and I finally got it. Of course the customer has to deal with you no matter how you treat them. They don’t really have a choice do they? Of course they do you think, but who really puts something down and goes elsewhere to get the same item? The time, the hassle of parking or taking another bus, sifting through piles of merchandise seemingly placed to hide that one item you’re really looking for. Who has the time for that? So the service provider really wins. Rarely will the customer actually go elsewhere. But rarely will they ever come back?