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Successful customer service practices

Ron Tillotson

Customers keep your business alive.

There are no alternatives. This is common

sense to any business owner, big or small.

Providing quality customer service

comes naturally to some, must be learned

(often the hard way) by

others, and is sometimes

misunderstood,

especially

when things are

going good when the

bottom line is black

and not many customers

are complaining about the product

and/or service you provide.

Here is a list of successful practices you

can use to gauge your knowledge and

understanding of quality customer service.

This list is based on more than 20 years of

my research and experience, that of others

in the field, and the experiences of those

seeking customer service from a variety of

companies and organizations:

* The Golden Rule does not work well in

customer service. By treating others the

way you want to be treated focuses on your

needs, not on the customers’ needs. A better

rule is the “Platinum Rule.” It states,

“Treat the customers the way they want to

be treated.” Their needs are very probably

different than yours.

* What are the customers’ needs? Here

are just a few:

1. The need for courteous service. This

can be in the form of a professional greeting

on the phone or in person. Giving customers

brief eye contact, positive voice tone

and I’m-paying-attention-to-you body language

when they enter your business can

pay huge dividends. And you’ve got about

10 seconds to do it. Customers want to feel

welcome. Telephone courtesy means

answering quickly with a positive voice

tone, giving the name of your business and

asking, “How may (not can) I help you?”

2. The need for a positive transaction.

Customers expect you to help them, answer

their questions, guide them through the

transaction, and make them feel this is time

and money well spent. If they are unhappy,

they will vent their anger and frustration

later when they tell their friends, neighbors

and coworkers how awful you were.

Ironically, they may not tell a soul how

good you were. One more important note:

Draw a mental line in the sand on one side

of which is quality customer service – the

“helping” side – and on the other is the

“rescue” side. You can never rescue a customer

from himself or herself. Whenever

you try, you may wind up being berated and

the victim of a lose-lose situation. Did you

ever try to help (read “rescue”) someone by

helping him or her well beyond what they

expected? It’s OK to exceed customers’

expectations within reason, but if you go too

far, it can cause you grief. An example

would be to extend their credit far beyond

your normal boundaries, and they skip anyway.

3. The need for acceptance. It is the

responsibility or your business or organization

to treat all customers fairly and equitably.

We all have certain core values that

tell us what is right and what is wrong. So

do your customers. Learn to accept and

respect the customer’s point of view, not to

challenge it. It is better to keep your mouth

closed and your ears and eyes open, to allow

progress in any transaction. A good rule to

follow is: Never be surprised at what you

see and hear. Focus on the facts and the

customer’s needs, not on their personality.

* Every customer transaction has two

sides: a business-need side and a personalneed

side. People have feelings. Customers

are people. If you fail to respond to a customer’s

feelings, the transaction may fail.

Here’s a tip:Whenever a customer mentions

something personal – negative or positive

– that is important to them during a

transaction, remember the essence of what

they said and end the transaction with a

positive comment, e.g., “I’m glad you are

feeling better,” “I hope your car gets fixed

OK,” or simply, “It sounds like things will

improve.”

* All companies and organizations must

have quality internal customer service

before attempting to implement or improve

quality external customer service. I taught a

customer relations class at Truckee

Meadows Community College for 10 years.

One of the handouts I created was a quote

from me that often generated much discussion:

“Companies and organizations have

more to fear from poor internal customer

service than from any level of external customer

service.” Quality internal customer

service means that all frontline employees

who deal with customers have the resources,

support, empowerment, effective lines of

communication, management respect and

training to do their jobs efficiently and

effectively. It is a fact in customer service

that a mistreated employee will mistreat

customers.

Finally, remember that quality customer

service is “the business of the business.”

Practice it every second of the day to ensure

your business stays successful.

Ron Tillotson (performimp@aol.com)

established the first formal customer service

training for Sierra Pacific Power Co. in 1979,

has custom-designed and taught customer

service classes for several Nevada organizations,

and has held several positions that

required him to provide quality frontline customer

service.