Anybody who has ever been involved with running a business knows the important relationship between customer service and customer loyalty. If you want to stay in business successfully, you have to make your customers and clients feel appreciated and respected.
But even for the most established business experts, there is sometimes a disconnect when the service roles are reversed. We've all experienced bad service before, but have we stopped to think about our role in the interaction?
According to Ron Kaufman, a New York Times bestselling author who has built service cultures within a variety of mega-organizations and founded his own management consultanty firm, customer service has fallen into a crisis mode and we, as customers, sometimes have to take responsibility for our bad service experiences.
“Often, we get poor service because we’re poor customers,” says Kaufman. “It’s a two-way street. When we’re rude or impersonal to service providers, we get rude and impersonal treatment back. This creates low expectations on both sides, which affects our next service interactions.”
So, if bad customer behavior breeds bad customer service and bad customer service, in turn, breeds bad customer behavior, the cycle of inconsideration and negativity can easily become ingrained in our culture.
Kaufman believes that the chain can be broken if we all commit to becoming "service champions," or people who take responsibility for uplifting others' experiences whether they are serving someone else or being served.
"When you are an appreciative and considerate customer, service providers will often go the extra mile to serve you better," says Kaufman. "But if you rant and pound the table, people may serve you grudgingly, if at all."
While Kaufman's philosophy sounds ideal, it can definitely be filed under life's "easier said than done" label. But maybe a perfect balance of service and appreciation can be achieved with a little practice. Check out Kaufman's recommended steps for becoming a better customer and receiving superior service:
Be appreciative and polite. Remember, there is a fellow human being on the other end of your phone call, the receiving side of your email, or just across the counter. “Begin each interaction with a quick, ‘Hi. Thank you for helping me. I really appreciate it,’” advises Kaufman. “This takes about two seconds and can dramatically improve the mood of a service provider.”
Get your service provider’s name and use it. You can make this short and friendly by first offering your name and then asking, “Who am I speaking with, please?” Or if you are face-to-face, simply ask, “May I know your name?” “Once you know it, repeat it with a smile in your voice,” says Kaufman. “This creates a personal connection and makes it much harder for a service provider to treat you like an anonymous account holder or policy number.”
Be upbeat. Many service providers face customer after customer all day long. The routine can become tiresome. “When an energetic and smiling customer appears, that person often enjoys special care and treatment in return,” notes Kaufman. “What you send out does come back. Attitudes—positive and negative—really are contagious.”
Provide information just the way they want it. Many service providers need your data in a sequence that fits their forms, screens, and procedures. “Have all your information ready to go, but give it in the order they prefer,” advises Kaufman. “Saying, ‘I have all my information ready. Which would you like first?’ lets the provider know you are prepared and will be easy to work with. The time you take getting everything in order will save time in the service conversation, too.”
Confirm next actions. Repeat what your service provider promises to do. Confirm dates, times, amounts, responsibilities, and commitments. “This helps you move together through the service process, catching any misunderstanding and correcting it along the way,” says Kaufman. “Be sure you both understand what will happen next: what they will do, what you will do, and what both parties have agreed to going forward.”
When appropriate, commiserate. Sometimes service providers let their frustration show. A slow computer, a previous customer, high call volume, pressure from a manager, or some unwelcome personal event may have upset them. “When you hear an upset tone, be the one to soothe it,” suggests Kaufman. “You might say, ‘It sounds like things are tough right now. I really appreciate your help.’ This brief moment of empathy can be an oasis in their world.”
Show your appreciation. A sincere “thank you” is always appropriate. “If your service provider deserves more, give more,” says Kaufman. “A nicely written compliment can make a huge difference in someone else’s day, or even career. And who knows? The person you praise today may serve you again tomorrow.
If you want to take showing your appreciation a step further, ask the service provider how they’d like to be recognized. For example, a realtor might prefer a testimonial for her Web site over having you send a complimentary note to her manager. A younger service provider might love it if you Tweet about them while an older generation service provider mind find more value in a completed comment card. Show your appreciation in the way your service providers want to be appreciated; after all, they served you the way you wanted to be served!”
Spread the word. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in uplifting service that’s certainly true. The next time you receive uplifting service at your favorite coffee shop, at the hardware store, at the post office, wherever you are, ask the service provider if you can take their picture and then ask for their manager’s name and contact information. “Send the picture to the service provider’s manager with a message that reads, ‘This person’s service makes me admire and appreciate your organization.’” says Kaufman. “Expressing your satisfaction to their manager in this way will speak volumes to the service provider and will inspire not only the service you receive in the future, but the service they provide to all of their customers.”
“Keep in mind that while this advice will help you get better service from service providers, much of it can also be used to experience more joy and satisfaction from your relationships with your colleagues, friends, and other loved ones,” notes Kaufman. “What goes around really does come around. When you treat someone well, whether it’s your spouse, a vendor at work, or the person you meet at the coffee shop in the morning, he or she is more likely to step up and treat you well, too,” he adds. “We all live and work in a whole world of relationships based on service. As you uplift and upgrade the service you provide, the world will uplift you.”