The following is a guest post from Performance Research Associates, author of Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service, Fourth Edition.
Let’s face it, with the busy-ness of the holiday season upon us, many customers as well as service providers are dreading the next few days of long lines, over-worked store clerks, frustrated shoppers, low inventory, and a seemingly endless search for that perfect gift for Aunt Thelma, little Tommie, or their significant other.
While the list of tips below probably won’t remove all the stress associated with this time of year, it can most definitely make your shopping experiences more relaxing – and maybe even enjoyable.
And for you service providers out there, we’ve included some tips for you as well. We know your job is stressful – even during the calmest times of year – and we know how hard it is to Knock the Socks Off your customers with every contact.
For Frustrated Holiday Shoppers:
- Prepare to be served well. Customers who receive outstanding service mentally prepare themselves to be served well. Be aware of the difference between preparing to be served well, and having an “entitlement” attitude.
- Reveal a little of your personality. By allowing the service provider to see a little of who you are, you invite them to take an interest in helping you.
- Explain, don’t complain. A question about a product is why the service provider is there to help. Whether by instant chat, phone requests, or Tweeting, the service provider will serve you better if you are positive. Start by explaining the problem and asking for help, rather than by making accusations, blaming or making demands of the service provider.
- Look ‘em in the eye. A service provider is more likely to treat you like a person, instead of a number, if he or she actually sees you. Make eye contact. If you are shopping on-line, you should still be humane. You’re more likely to get a humane reception.
- Speak up. Tell the service provider exactly what your need or the problem is—and what you would like to see happen to fix it. Don’t get exasperated if the provider asks you to repeat yourself. When the service provider clearly understands your situation, she is in a much better position to assist you.
- Ask how long you will have to wait. In person, on the phone, or on the Web, ask how long you should realistically expect to wait for a response to your concern. Don’t take “I don’t know” for an answer. Be polite, but insistent.
- Say “thank you.” Service providers appreciate recognition for a job well done and their patience in helping you—and may try a little harder to please a pleasant customer. Do you want their job this time of the year?
- Most important, Be Friendly! If you’re kind to a service provider, treat them like you care, chances are the person handling your transaction will respond in kind – and who knows, you might be the person who turns their day around!
For Service Providers on the Front Lines:
- Get smart about your company and its products. With knowledge, you’ll get an edge on answering customers’ questions and resolving their dilemmas. Check in before each shift you work to make sure you are up-to-date on current inventory, special offers and what is the “hot” item customers are seeking. You may even be able to offer value-added service when you can tell the customer about a better deal, free shipping or a new item arrival.
- Listen to the customer, aggressively. If the information is complex, confirm your understanding by repeating it. Ask questions if you are unclear about anything. This will enable you to better respond to customers requests.
- Respond to customers’ problems with empathy, not sympathy. The trick is to become emotionally aware without becoming too emotionally involved. Be caring but stay calm. Otherwise, you’ll end each day worn out and frazzled. Keep the focus on the customer by recognizing clear signs of emotion – frustration, anger, confusion, impatience or even relief and happiness.
- Make the customer right. Give customers the benefit of the doubt. Even if what a customer says sounds wrong to you, that doesn’t mean that it is. And even if it is wrong, your customer ALWAYS deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Right or wrong, the customer is ALWAYS the customer and without him or her, you could easily be without a job.
- Stick with the truth. Telling the customer that “everything will be fine” when it might not be is risky. Being honest, without hammering away on the things that may go wrong, is always a better course. Be careful not to quote company policy or procedure as a first recourse. Take time to explain the why’s to customers and make sure the customer understands why doing business with you is to his or her advantage.
- Again, Be Friendly! Respect your customers! When they’re waiting in line, don’t take a personal call, don’t talk about going on your break in 10 minutes. Instead, give your customers your undivided attention. Let them know that you appreciate them doing business with you and that you hope they’ll continue to do so. But don’t let them know with a robotic, “thank you and come again.” Rather convince them with your smile, your eye contact and your genuine pleasure at being able to knock their socks off! They’ll be back!
Performance Research Associates (PRA) consults with wide-ranging companies on customer service issues. With offices in Minneapolis, Dallas, Orlando, and Ann Arbor, PRA boasts an international who’s who of clients, from GlaxoSmithKline to Harley-Davison, from PriceWaterhouseCoopers to Universal Studios Theme Parks.