By Laurie Guest
Since 1991, the first week of October has been deemed National Customer Service Week by the Customer Service Group. With the week quickly approaching this year, I’m getting a jump start on the celebration and I hope you will, too. At a time when there’s a lot of noise in the news about customers agitated with frontline workers, acting out and behaving like entitled teenagers, when our teams are worn down and wearing themselves out, I’m here asking you to go the extra mile to APPRECIATE those same customers? That’s right, I am! Let’s dig into why…
Customer service, when done right, is an extremely powerful tool to not only build relationships with your customers and build your business’s reputation, but to develop your team into a stronger, more cohesive unit.
With that in mind, I want to focus on three specific aspects of the power of customer service: Pacing, Positioning and People.
The Power of Pacing
If you have ever heard me speak, you know that I am a fast talker. Not the kind who tries to persuade you into something dishonest, but rather a person who says a LOT of words per minute. So the irony is not lost on me that my first piece of advice is to slow down your customer service delivery.
By the nature of their jobs, frontline staff are required to say the same thing repeatedly to their customers. When words begin to sound robotic, too jumbled, or too fast to understand, then the strength of the messaging is lost. Recently, I witnessed a flight attendant mumble her instructions so quickly, I am sure no one could understand her. Obviously the frequent fliers don’t need to hear the instructions again, but what about the select few who may be first timers? Do they truly know what to do in an emergency? The beverage cart service is not her primary job! Rather, it’s her ability to guide us during an emergency that should be her priority, and the safety instructions should never be seen as something to “get through quickly.”
All customer service team members are challenged to serve at their best right now. Our masks and Plexiglas partitions are added barriers to clear understanding. Take the time to monitor yourself and your team to see if an adjustment in pace is needed. The best speed for conversational understanding is 120-150 words per minute, and keep in mind that has to be adjusted for hearing issues, age, and the level of detail required for the transaction to be successful.
For example, if your comments are more a matter of pleasantry (as in, “please have a seat until we call your name”), it is not as vital that you are clearly understood. However, a situation where instruction is critical (like, “Please stay still and hold your breath while the brain scan is in motion!”) is a bigger deal to be sure to get right.
Oh, and keep in mind when slowing down your speech pattern that you may run the risk of sounding condescending or rude. Be aware of your tone, because our goal is to be friendly, patient, and most of all, understood.
Power of Positive Positioning
The art of positive positioning starts with identifying the noteworthy assets in your offer, sale or product and using statements that build up the experience and create a feeling of anticipation. For example, I made a reservation at a spa, and at the end of the phone conversation, the receptionist said, “Just wait until you see our infinity pool and our power shower!” She spoke with such enthusiasm that I couldn’t wait to get to the place. When I did get there, it did notdisappoint. The infinity pool and the power shower were, in fact, fantastic! This spa is a place I would recommend again. She set that bar of expectation by positioning the experience in a positive, exciting way.
Another way to use positive positioning is to listen for hesitation points in the buyer’s communication and balance them with accurate praise. For example, an assistant during an initial sales call is trained to listen for hurdles in order to address them. If the client pauses when it’s time to schedule a financial-planning consultation, for example, the administrative assistant might say something like, “What I like about working with Sally is that she’s really honest with her recommendations. She will show you all the options and not be pushy in her advice. Clients really appreciate that about her.”
And just like that, it’s easier than ever to book the appointment. If you are a solopreneur and you answer your own phone, it may be hard to say how great you are without sounding a little conceited, right? Consider using phrases such as “I’m proud of…” or “Many of my clients comment on…”
To set the expectation of a good experience and create the image you desire, take a moment to generate a list of specific things to compliment about your organization, your people, your product, and your service. Try recruiting your co-workers or boss to help; or, if you’re a solopreneur, ask a few trusted clients or friends. (If you can’t come up with a list, well, then you’ve uncovered a bigger issue.) Once you have your list, develop sentences that work to communicate your positives in a way that feels comfortable. For example, “He’s a great doctor,” could be “Our patients often tell us Dr. Foster is really easy to talk to.” The statements, of course, need to be truthful and accurate. Once you fine-tune the language, even simple words can make a difference. Adverbs like definitely, absolutely, and certainly are great examples of response words with great impact, all of them positioning you, your organization and your services positively for the most powerful connection possible.
Power of the People
Let’s shift the focus of Customer Service Week just a bit with this last one. What about the celebration of your internal customer?
Now more than ever, we must recognize and applaud the efforts of our workforce. The last year and a half has flipped life on its head. Your workforce moved from the comfort of the workplace office to the kitchen table cubicle with spotty wifi. They traded interesting water cooler conversations for home distractions.
It is time to celebrate the team and honor them with the same treatment we strive to deliver to our external customers. That starts with meeting their basic needs to do the job and keeping a watchful eye on their personal well-being. Recently, I learned of a staff person who is responsible for a piece of equipment in the office that requires regular inspection from an outside source in order to keep functioning safely. She has asked repeatedly over an eight month time period for the authorization to make this happen and still has not received the go ahead. She is exhausted and frustrated and cannot comprehend why this basic need is not being met. Imagine what she says when someone asks her, “How’s work?”
During my years of consulting with small businesses on customer service and staff-development issues, I would conduct one-on-one interviews with each team member of an organization in order to learn more about the internal health of the business. When a boss received outstanding comments regarding his or her leadership, I asked this simple question: “What does your boss do that prompts this glorious praise from you?” The answer always fell into the category of caring about them as a person, not just about the role they filled at work.
By paying attention to more than just the bottom line, stronger relationships can be built. I once interviewed a disgruntled employee at the request of her employer because he could not figure out what was causing the change in her attitude over the previous few months. It only took a little prodding to find out she was extremely uncomfortable in her desk chair and had asked him repeatedly for months if the worn-out chair could be replaced. According to her, the request was always met with “Let me think about it,” and then nothing ever happened. Such an easy solution, but because he was procrastinating on a small decision, she interpreted it as a lack of caring on his part. It makes sense that happier employees will stick with you long-term when their needs are being met and they feel valued.
Retaining talent that is already trained and on board with your organization’s service mindset is much easier than hiring new staff. If you make it a priority to learn what motivates your team and help them understand your service expectations, your employees will be satisfied, and they’ll stay with you longer. That’s a fact, and one you can put into action this Customer Service Week
Pull It All Together
As you prepare for National Customer Service Week, my challenge for you is to take a pause from the daily craziness of attempting to meet customer demand with a reduced work force or the other daily challenges you may be facing. Instead, and for just a moment, can you focus on the joy of service? The Power of Customer Service is essential to you and your team’s success, and now is the time to pull it all together and make your customers (internal and external!) feel truly appreciated.
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