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The Customer Experience: What Good Customer Service Really Looks Like

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What does Customer Service really mean?

From a very young age I’ve had the privilege of learning about good customer service from the master of them all: my mentor, my dad. As a manager at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor, and then at Newport Bay restaurants in the Portland area, dad learned from Bob Farrell, author of “Give ‘em the Pickle”.

Whether we were patronizing one of dad’s eateries or another establishment, dad’s eye for detail and demand for excellent standards translated into sharing his kind, albeit honest, feedback and input. While that was and still can be a bit embarrassing for his kids, it was an example that instilled the same in me. 

To this day I am hyper-aware of a company’s service standards, and I’m here to tell you that customer service encompasses much, much more than just response to complaints or delivering what you promise.

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Here are a few things to consider when customer service comes into play…

People matter – Pay attention to the human, not just the words, and try to identify where their frustration may be coming from. Don’t take it personally.

Empower your team – Even if it’s just you, empower the faces of your business to make the best decision for the customer and the company so they don’t have to escalate to a manager. When an issue has to be repeated, the thoughts and feelings that customer has already expressed are reinforced. Give each team member the ability to make it right.

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Defuse through patient kindness – Public perception of any business can be very skewed and it can vary depending on many factors, not the least of which could be the day they’ve had, mood they’re in, or experience they’ve had with similar businesses. With today’s online world, a fire can be easily fueled when a negative review is posted. Whether in person or online, respond to all feedback with patience and kindness, offering to make it right.

Use fewer words – Defending yourself and over-explaining will only fuel the fire, giving your customer more to use against you. A simple and brief apology for the experience they had, taking responsibility for that experience, and accepting their feedback as an opportunity to improve will take you farther than a long, drawn out reply, or no response at all.

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Every part of the experience matters – Even the cleanliness of your restrooms, floors, walls, and tidiness of your space matters. Show your customers you care about them and their whole experience by maintaining and caring for your space as if it was ONLY for your customer.

Your words build or destroy trust – When a company makes a promise and doesn’t deliver on that promise, trust is lost. When communication is slow, misspelled, or not relationship-driven, the customer notices and trust is lost. When someone defends themselves, lashes out, fires back, or blame is shifted, trust is lost. With the highest standards infused in every word, whether written or said, your brand reputation will shine.

Pay attention – This one spiders out into different areas:

  • Standing in a long line at any store where I can see other employees talking, standing around, and not recognizing that customers are waiting to give the establishment money leaves me feeling devalued. Even worse is when a business doesn’t listen, wastes my time, or makes me repeat myself numerous times. If you or your employees notice long lines, people looking for something, or someone trying to make a decision, empower them to help or say something. By lightening the moment, lending a hand, or at least recognizing the situation, frustration can be squashed.
  • Saying and spelling names correctly shows care and respect. Ensuring that your customer's name is spelled correctly in emails, mailings, invoices, even food or drink orders makes the person feel recognized, seen, and valued. Likewise, saying thier name the way they do demonstrates intentionality.
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Everyone wants to belong – Every human possesses an internal desire to be known. When you walk into your local coffee shop only to hear the barista call your name and welcome you, how do you feel? When they remember your drink and ask if you’re having “the regular”, how do you feel? You feel like they know you – like you belong. Any company that calls me by name when I arrive wins my respect because they have intentionally set out to recognize and remember their customer - and it makes me want to return time and again because I feel like I’m welcomed, like I’m part of their family.

Don’t blame-shift – When was the last time pointing a finger ever helped a heated scenario? Recently, my family experienced this at a coastal eatery and there was zero excuse for it. The passive aggressive manager didn’t help either. Shifting blame to the customer is one of the easiest ways to not only lose that customer for life, but to open a window for scathing online reviews. 

Take responsibility – Granted, some people are only out to be mean, benefit themselves, get free stuff, or raise a stink, but if the customer truly believes they have been wronged by your company, taking responsibility for their experience is the least you can do. Whatever you can do to make it right should help diffuse the situation.

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Build relationship – When the world’s possessions dull, and online sites and platforms go away, relationship will be the only thing left. Remember the two points above about “people mattering’ and ‘everyone wanting to belong’? Knowing your customers, treating them like you want to be treated, welcoming them in, and caring about them is what lasts. Establish a relationship with me and I am more likely to do business with you again and again. When you feel you have connected with someone, those strands of trust forge loyalty. Even if you don’t treat each customer or client like family, remember that the golden rule will always take you farther than any superficial engagement. People can smell fake, so make sure your authenticity runs deep.

On the flip side of every company customer service issue is a person who feels wronged. No matter what the intent is of the person who feels wronged, there is a reason they feel that way. Whether it is a past hurt or experience that is rearing its ugly head, or it really was a terrible experience, you and your company have the ability to treat people like humans. We are all broken in one way or another. No one is perfect or 100% whole. Remembering humanity first, forgiving whatever is flung at you, and caring about the person through the moment can be the pivotal opportunity you have to make a fan for life.

Here’s to relationship and great customer experiences!

 - Jamie


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