21st Century Customer Service – Is It Just Me or…

Okay I’ll admit it. I would rather have a root canal than go shopping. However over the holidays I was forced, yes forced, to go out and shop for my loved ones. Proof positive that – YES – I am a giver!

In the course of this one excursion (OK. So I’ll admit I go out ONCE maybe for a few hours) I was exposed to what apparently passes for “customer service” in the 21st century.  I was flabbergasted.

I’m sure I came across as “crotchety old guy” because there were a couple of times where I quite literally couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Having worked in the event planning industry for more years than I  care to admit, it’s very hard for me to go into a restaurant or store without thoroughly reviewing their service standards, cleanliness etc. (Don’t even get me started on burned out light bulbs – let’s just not go there!). Clearly, I can never be a passive customer again.

What the Heck Is Going on with Customer Service?

Here’s a brief overview of one of those experiences. There was a woman in front of me in a checkout line and when her transaction was completed she turned to the cashier and said: “Oh could I please have a gift receipt”. To which the cashier replied: “I’m sorry I can’t now, you should’ve asked me that at the beginning”.

Couldn’t help myself – I opened my trap and said to the cashier: “I’m sorry, it’s not that woman’s responsibility to understand at which point she should’ve asked for a gift receipt. And it’s also something that you can technically provide so no is not an appropriate answer”.

And lo and behold the cashier was able to produce a gift receipt after all. Go figure. After the woman left I told the cashier that it wasn’t my intention to embarrass her. Rather that I am sick and tired of always hearing the word “no” from so called “service” providers.

And While We’re on the Topic of Customer Service….

OK…so WHO should be thanking whom?  In OLDEN TIMES – say 1987 – the person providing the service would THANK the customer and the customer would say “you’re welcome”.  I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

Now, have you noticed? That’s switched!  We, the customers are saying “thank you” (I do that all the time…it’s called “manners”) and the service providers come back with a big “no problem”.

Really?  No PROBLEM?  I’m so happy that it’s not a problem for you to be letting me spend my money in your store, restaurant, gas station or hotel. It’s like you’ve just done me a huge favor – akin to helping me move or letting me borrow your truck! Shouldn’t the people providing the service be the ones thanking me for giving them my hard earned dollars?  I want a genuine THANK YOU – and I know I’m not alone.

And here’s a thought!  How about we all LOOK UP every once in a while?  Look up when someone is talking to you. I’m sure you’ve seen those videos where people have been on their smart phones walking into traffic, buildings, fire hydrants, other people etc. I hate to say this but lately, watching somebody fall down the stairs because he was on his phone and didn’t SEE them makes me laugh – out loud.  Not nice but true!

When I’m talking to potential suppliers, on a site visit for example, I want their attention.  If they can’t stop looking at the phone to look AT me – listen and answer my questions – I lose confidence in their ability to take care of my client.  Suppliers and service providers who know enough to put the phones away and look UP now have a competitive advantage.

Customer Service Tips

So here are some ground breaking customer service tips that will put you at the top of the Customer Service Class of 2016 – You may want to get a pen.  (I’ll wait).

  1. Look UP – that’s all I have to say about that!
  2. Say THANK YOU to your customers – and take “no problem” totally off the table!
  3. Be NICE to people. Even if you’re stressed and trying to meet a deadline. ESPECIALLY if you’re stressed and trying to meet a deadline. Just because someone is working for you, or is a supplier to you, doesn’t give you a license to be rude. A little bit of kindness can go a long way. Treat the person with a little bit of respect. You’re not lecturing a two-year-old here. Yes the supplier may have done something that didn’t quite meet your expectations. But if you start freaking out, swearing, etc., you lose all credibility with the argument. And, quite frankly, you become somebody who they no longer WANT to help. You get a lot more respect – and much better service – by treating people fairly. You know, do unto others…
  4. Put your money where your mouth is! Service has sunk to a new low because we, as the clients and customers, have accepted it. I really do try to put my money where my mouth is. If I’m not pleased with the way that I’ve been treated then I simply don’t give that establishment my business again. Companies need to understand just how important good customer service is to their success.

As I mentioned earlier, it blows my mind that  in 2016 – looking UP and saying THANK YOU – can give you a competitive advantage. Don’t get me wrong, customer service people need the technical skills to do the job but being nice to your clients and customers brings repeat business. In some cases, just being nice wins you that piece of business. But what many companies fail to understand is that you can’t teach people how to have a personality. That needs to be addressed at the hiring stage.

And if you are the head honcho – if you own or manage your business – it has to start with you.  The people who work for you will take their lead from you.  So put that phone away and look up!  You’re welcome!

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