The Big E Word in Customer Service

When speaking with managers in the customer service industry, this comment is often repeated – “I just wish I could get my people to show more empathy towards to the customer.” Empathy – The big E word in customer service. One’s ability to sincerely interject this trait in customer service is critical. It’s important to properly express empathy when customers are upset or angry with your company’s products or services. Let’s look at a few ways to express empathy.

How Would I Feel?
Empathy is the art of putting one’s self in another’s shoes. One can ask one’s self – If I were in this situation, how would I feel? The action of mentally pausing to consider this question allows one to “feel” what the other person is actually experiencing. When customers are unhappy, upset or disgruntled, they usually just want someone to listen to and acknowledge their particular situation. When customers feel “heard”, more often than not their level of discontentment is reduced. It’s important to place one’s self in the customer’s shoes!

What Would I Expect?
When exercising one’s empathy skills, it’s should be natural to ask one’s self: What would I expect as a resolution if I was experiencing this situation? If you know what you would expect, examine your options for the best way to resolve the customer’s situation. Should your options not include what you feel might be the best solution, make suggestions to upper management to get additional options included to insure customers are satisfied with your offerings for resolving the situation. When customers feel that you’ve provided the optimal solution for their situation, the chances of retaining them as customers are greatly enhanced.

Do I Trust You?
When assisting an unhappy, upset or disgruntled customer, exercising empathy helps to build rapport and establish trust. Think about it – if someone is indifferent towards your situation, how can you trust that they will put forth their best efforts to provide the appropriate resolution? Ask yourself, how can I get this person to know that I understand and truly empathize with their situation? Once the person truly feels that you are sincere when exercising empathy, they are more than likely to accept the offered resolution.

Are You Listening?
In order to empathize with others, one must first be willing to listen to their story. Utilizing effective listening skills is paramount to the customer feeling that you are being empathetic. When face to face with customers, be sure to maintain eye contact as this indicates to the customer that you’re focused on them. Watch your body language and facial expressions as these are indicators of how you truly feel about the customer’s situation. It’s pretty easy for customers to determine if you’re really paying attention to what they’re saying when face to face. When on the phone with customers, your voice tone and inflections provide assurance that you are listening. Allow the customer to get their whole story out before attempting to offer a solution. Interject with ” I understand your frustration.” or “I too would be unhappy if in this situation.” when the customer pauses while voicing their displeasure as these are indicators to the customer that you are in fact listening. Restate the customer’s issue to reassure the customer that you were in fact listening and understand their situation. Effective listening skills are the foundation for empathizing with customers. Remember, more listening and less talking leads to retaining an upset customer.

Employing the art of empathy can be the difference in one’s attempt to retain an angry customer. Empathize sincerely by asking yourself – How Would I Feel?, What Would I Expect?, Do I Trust You? and Are You Listening?


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Option Awareness Does Create Customer Experiences

During my career in the customer service industry, I felt most effective when I understood the available options for handling customer requests or inquiries. It’s important to be able to confidently provide service as customers and employees both enjoy the experience so much more. Here are a couple of things to consider to establish option awareness.

The Play Clock is Running
I like to look at customer service like the game of football. American professional football has a 40 second play clock. It’s required that the team in possession of the ball start a play prior to the play clock expiration. Failure to do so results in a delay of game penalty. It’s the same in customer service. When approached, in receipt of a web chat request or called by a customer, the play clock begins to run at that moment. Customers expect to receive timely service. Just as in football, the failure to do so might result in a penalty – an upset customer. It’s critical that customer facing personnel are equipped with options in order to provide timely and efficient service.

Option Awareness
Most of the great quarterbacks spend time studying various scenarios that might be faced during an upcoming game. This helps him in determining which option is best for particular situations. It’s also necessary to know your options before interacting with customers. Customer service managers must ensure that customer facing personnel are aware of the options available for delivering a great customer experience. Make it a point to inquire about the typical scenarios that front line personnel face on a regular basis. Work with customer facing personnel in developing options for handling these situations. When the quarterback is equipped with options, his confidence level increases as he feels equipped with the right tools to handle the situation. It’s the same in customer service. Customer facing personnel are able to perform at higher levels when they are aware of available options and can make application in a confident manner.

What’s the Correct Option for This Situation?
In American football, the quarterback is primarily responsible for insuring that the chosen play is the correct one. When surveying the opposing defense, he has to make the decision as to whether or not the chosen play will be successful. Often, he has to switch to an option (another play) to increase the chances for success. It’s the same in customer service! Customer facing personnel must determine which option is best for the customer s situation, whether it be in meeting a sales or service need. One’s ability to utilize the best option creates trust from the customer in your ability to provide what’s best to fit their specific situation. The better the quarterback gets at choosing the right option the longer he gets to stay in the game. It’s the same with customers. When trust is gained, the customer will usually return again and again for additional services or products. The ability to choose the right option is crucial to success in customer service.

Customer service requires customer service personnel to always be ready and equipped to work at maximum efficiency and with maximum effectiveness. One’s ability to know that the Play Clock is Running in your customer’s head, understanding that there are solutions available via Option Awareness and possessing the knowledge to Select the Right Option will lead to creating satisfied customers and confident customer facing personnel.


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Don’t Do This in Front of the Customer

Once upon entering a fast food franchise (yes I know it’s not healthy, but oh well) I witnessed a verbal altercation between if you can believe it – two employees! From what I could gather, there seems to have been an error on a customer’s order and one employee was trying to place the blame on the other. I was somewhat dumbfounded as both employees seemed not to notice that I had entered or that all of the attention of the eat-in diners was upon them. Finally, I moved closer to the order station and whispered to get their attention – “Hey – you really shouldn’t do this in front of the customer.”

I don’t know how many of you have witnessed similar encounter, but I do know it’s not the way one should represent their respective company to customers. When errors happen, they should be discussed out of the customer’s sight. It’s important to work as a team – not to place blame, especially in front of the customer! While it is necessary to determine how the error occurred it’s probably a good idea to not allow it to become heated. Employees should be trained to continue to work as a team, even in the midst of an employee induced issue.

The fast food as well as other industries require employees to quickly provide a great customer experience through producing a quality product in a timely manner. This means everyone working in tandem to make sure the customer’s order is fulfilled properly. Rarely will you see the person taking the order actually preparing the order. Each person is relying upon the other to properly complete their portion of the order fulfillment routine. As with any process where we humans are involved, errors will sometimes occur. When they do, it’s important to quickly resolve the issue for the customer. When discussing the error with the team, one should look to the system first for the breakdown and strive to preserve the dignity of the employee who contributed to the error. Moreover, employees should strive to preserve the customer’s perception of the company. As we all know, customers have smartphones with cameras and recording capabilities. One could unknowingly become a social media hit!

Remember when errors occur in fulfilling customers orders, especially in a public setting, choose an opportune time to discuss the situation. Just don’t do it in front of the customer!


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Keys To a Great In-Home Service Experience

There are a multitude of in-home service providers in today’s economy. Carpet cleaners, appliance installation/repair, cable TV/internet service just to name a few. When providing in-home service at the customer’s residence, it’s important to have a plan for providing a great customer experience. Take the following into consideration when developing your plan.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Timely communication is a key aspect of your in-home service plan. When your customer sets an appointment, advise the customer that you will contact them again 24 or 48 hours prior just to verify that they will be available at the scheduled time. Provide your customer with instructions on how to cancel or reschedule their appointment. Call the customer again the day of the scheduled appointment. Verify the service to be provided. Make sure that the service provider is clear on the service he/she is to provide. If possible, have the service provider call when en route to the customer’s residence. Your willingness to effectively communicate will set your business apart from the competition.

Before You Ring the Door Bell
I remember having an issue with my home AC unit where service was required. When the service provider arrived, I couldn’t tell what company he represented. No signage on his truck. No uniform. No company ID. And his girlfriend was in the truck with him! Not the way to make the customer feel at ease. It’s important to make a good presentation of one’s company at the customer’s residence. Is the company or contractor vehicle clean with company signage readily visible? Is the service provider dressed in a clean company uniform? Does the service provider present his/her company ID before entering the customer’s residence? Has the service provider slipped on shoe covers so as not to inadvertently soil a customer’s floors? These are all things to consider before ringing the doorbell!

The Service Experience
When it comes to the providing a great in-home service experience, two key ingredients are one’s ability to ask the right questions coupled with excellent listening skills. As a service provider, it’s a good idea to establish the service the customer is expecting to receive during your visit. “Sir/Ma’am – I here today to -” just to make sure you and the customer are on the same page before starting the actual physical service process. When at a customer’s residence to resolve an issue another key ingredient to add to your skill set is the ability to ask the right questions? When did the problem start? Where is the noise located? What time of day is the issue most prevalent? By allowing your customer to answer questions, you make them a part of the service experience. Most customers appreciate being asked these questions and it helps one to possibly pinpoint the issue or maybe change resolution strategies.

Rate My In-Home Service Please!
It’s important to know how your customer feels about the level of service provided during their in-home service. Customer feedback is important to consistently providing great in-home service experience. While in the customer’s residence, provide a short (5 to 10 questions) survey for the customer to complete right on the spot. The experience is fresh in the customer’s mind which oftentimes leads to a more accurate rating. Offer the survey right before removing equipment, tools or whatever is required for service completion. The customer can complete the survey while you’re loading the truck. Create the survey with what’s important to the customer in mind: Timeliness, Effective Communication, Level of Service Provided and Service Provider Appearance (clean uniform, shoe covers, company ID, etc.) among other possible categories. Customers love to give feedback – let them give their opinion regarding your service. It helps service providers stay on their toes and helps one to determine what’s really important to customers.

In-home service is a big deal in today’s world. Make sure you’re creating great in-home customer experiences by Communicating, making sure service providers create the right impression Before Ringing the Doorbell, providing a great Service Experience and allowing the customer Rate Your Services.


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