Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A rant about customer service

There is something about working in customer service that makes you notice when other people are doing it wrong.  It's maddening.

Now, I know, you're thinking I don't work in customer service; I work in a crisis centre.  However, being a crisis worker is all about customer service -- in the worst way.  People who come to see me (or who have me show up on their doorstep) are either: 1) embarrassed to be there, or 2) furious and full of hatred.  But I have a service that I am there to provide and that is that.

I have been in some form of customer service for all of my life: a cashier at Zellers, a waitress, a front desk clerk, an advocate, a crisis worker.  This being said, I have developed some rules for good customer service.  And, in all honesty, most people suck at them.

  1. Greet the person first.  I'm talking about saying hello when the person walks in the door.  If they are coming into your office, it is your turf -- your responsibility to welcome them.  Do not allow them to stand there like a deer in headlights as you stare at them.  Say hello.
  2. If you are busy, say so.  I/Someone will be right with you.  It's not that hard.  Do not ignore them.  I don't care how busy you are.  Unless you are making a life saving cut in heart surgery, you have time to tell them you are busy.  Don't let someone stand there waiting for you (who are not as important as you think) to acknowledge them.
  3. Stop your conversation.  I have been in more places than I care to think of where the service person has continued a conversation about something personal while I waited for him/her to assist me.  I've heard about people's dates, their marital problems, the meeting they were called into for being a bad worker (shocking), plans for tonight, and just idle gossip.  I've even had a few people look at me with disgust and say I'm on the phone.  Yes, you are.  With your mom.  STOP IT.
  4. Offer to help them.  Think they are lost?  Think you aren't the person they should be talking to?  Offer to find the person they need.  A young woman at the car dealership where I had my last vehicle (and will never go again) left me standing there for over 15 minutes because she knew I was at the wrong desk.  Did I know that?  NO.  That is why I stood there for 15 minutes.  I wanted to punch her in the throat by the time someone came to me and that is bad for everyone.
  5. Be polite.  I don't care if they are the biggest asshats in the history of asshats.  I deal with jerks on a daily basis.  It is not uncommon to be spit at, threatened, sworn at, called ugly names, and yelled at.  I tell new people that if someone hasn't said you are a racially insensitive piece of the female anatomy while you calmly stand there, you are not doing your job.  
  6. Consider if you were in their position.  You may deal with the same issue every day, but to this person it is a new experience.  It is the most important experience.  It is the only experience.  Be patient.  Be understanding.  Be firm, sure, but don't be a dick about it.
  7. Don't take flack.  If someone is talking in four letter words and is spiraling quickly out of control, it's okay to tell them they need to cool it.  Sir, I do not want to hear that sort of language.  Sir, I will not listen to you speak that way.  Ma'am, put your clothes back on.  Depending on the workplace, someone who is aggressive can be asked to leave.  If not, stay calm and explain that you will help them to the best of your ability, but they need to tone down the language.
  8. The customer is rarely right; it's your job to make them think they are.  Stating that you can imagine how difficult/frustrating they find the situation is perfectly acceptable.  Like cops in TV dramas, you can pretend to agree to anything if it gets what you need.  There is a way to make most people feel like they are getting their way without them getting their way.  Find a way to do that.  It's preparation for married life.
All I can say is -- almost every job is about customer service.  If you see people in your day, you are providing services to people.  You may think you're above it, but smarten up.  

Some day, someone, somewhere might serve you.  Wouldn't it be nice if they were good at it?


  1. AMEN! Amen, amen, AMEN! I, too, have worked in various customer service industries. I'm the one that will look around, and see what else is going on in the CS person's day, to try to excuse bad service. If I can't see a good reason, then all bets are off. It is not hard to follow those simple guidelines that you provided, above; yet, it is amazing how few really good service people there are out there!

  2. That is more than awesome and I am stealing it if I can figure out how.

  3. Also how do I get that Like, tweet, share thing on my blog?

  4. great list - I have printed it and stuck it on the wall at my store where Donna and I can review it frequently. Stan

  5. Dad: It took me a long time to figure out. I'm still not happy with it. I will break into your blog someday and install it.

    Uncle: I'm pretty sure that neither you nor Auntie ever need reminding, but I appreciate the vote of confidence!

  6. Thank you jeezuz for saying all this. Now if you could please download this into every mobile phone service operator/cable tv salesclerk/ big box store information desk (using this term VERY loosely here)clerk /receptionist... Do you have this, like, on a chip or something that could be implanted just by shaking someone's hand? You'd be doing the world a huge service.

  7. Hey Bron, and number five is just at family reunions,right?

  8. As you mention in your last point....a lot of this is just great common sense for dealing with other people--spouses and kids included! I use #6 and #8 a lot with my kids; my husband thinks I'm "giving in" when I say "I understand you don't want to go to bed, I wouldn't want to either...." He would TOTALLY suck at customer service!


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