Customer Service Agent
It’s easy to check out during a customer interaction you don’t care about – but you can’t ever do that as a business owner. Every customer requires your full attention – even in difficult cases.

Several years ago while in the process of moving to a new apartment, I began my search for an internet service provider. I knew of a lot of the bigger names in the area but was unpleasantly surprised by how few of them actually provided service to my apartment complex. After settling on Qwest (now CenturyLink), I began with a call to their customer service line.

Much of my spare time back then was dedicated to online gaming (specifically the original Guild Wars), so I needed a fast, reliable internet connection that could stand up to hours of exploration, farming, and raids. I was promised a 20 megabit connection, and made arrangements to have their technicians get everything set up.

My previous apartment complex had internet, but it was slow and unreliable on the best of days, so I was eager to see what actual internet speed was like.

Imagine my surprise when I found out it was quite a bit worse.

Three days, multiple customer service agents, and four supervisors up the chain of command later, I finally got a truthful explanation out of the matter – I had been lied to, and the best speed I could be supplied was a 1.5 megabit connection. I’ve always had a low threshold for dealing with incompetence, so I found myself quickly switching to the other provider in the area.

My brother just went through a similar experience with their customer service team involving setup scheduling, delaying his internet installation by two weeks. Because of the repeated dishonesty from multiple people and experiences with CenturyLink, they’ve not only lost a customer in me, but will lose more as I share my stories with others.

This memory got me thinking about something I take for granted because of a decade of experience – how to provide good customer service. If you plan to run your own business, this is a critical skill you MUST master if you want a chance to build trust with your market and ultimately succeed.

But what is good customer service? We’ve all heard the mantra that “the customer is always right” and I’ve talked about the importance of good reviews from customers, but there’s actually quite a bit more depth to customer service and its relationship with your reputation. Today’s post is going to explore that and expose a few secrets that will serve you well in your customer interactions.

Listening is more important than talking.

Don’t interrupt. Don’t assume. Do let your customer finish their explanation. They’re calling, e-mailing, or coming to your shop because they need something, and want to know if you can provide a solution for that need. And if they’re the typical, impatient American customer, they want it yesterday.

Listening serves a couple key goals that will help you in the majority of conversations. The first is giving your customer a chance to vent. Problems are frustrating, and it is very difficult to have a rational conversation while you’re annoyed, angry, or upset. Let them get any of these emotions off their chest, and the rest of your conversation will be much more pleasant.

The second is making sure you’re on the same page. Paraphrasing the issue at hand without sacrificing any of the key details helps you avoid mistakes and demonstrates you are invested in your customer’s issue – a pretty simple way to build rapport before ever getting started.

This does not mean that you should turn control of the conversation over to your customer, however. Keep them focused by asking specific questions to clarify details and ultimately steer the conversation to your desired conclusion, or else you might lose an hour of your day before you know it!

Being polite and pleasant doesn’t cost you anything, but can deliver major rewards.

We’ve all had tough days at some point or another in our lives. You may have come across an unexpected expense, lost money because of an employee error, had a heated argument with your business partner, or made an embarrassing mistake in front of a client.

Your customers don’t care.

My piano teacher had a saying she was fond of when her students made a mistake; fake it with flair, and move on. This lesson is critical with customer interactions of all types, and can turn a difficult situation into an excellent customer experience more often than not.

No one is denying how extremely easy it is to allow your emotions to bleed into your tone, but you simply cannot let them – even subtle changes are picked up on easily.

This can deteriorate your relationship over the course of a discussion and if your customer leaves with a sour taste in their mouth, they’ll be quick to leave a negative review, which in turn will make future customer interactions harder for you.

That being said, remember that the opposite is also true – many go out of their way to report on exceptional experiences too. You may even convince someone to hire you, purchase a product, or leave a positive review because of how impressed they are by the way you handle yourself in a tight spot. All for the low, low price of being polite.

When something goes wrong, offer options instead of dictating terms.

Think of a time where a company clearly wronged you. Perhaps a contractor did a poor job and is refusing to fix shoddy construction, FedEx drove off as their knuckles left your front door when “delivering” your expected package, or your internet provider didn’t show up at a scheduled time to install your service – after you took the day off to wait for them. If you’re anything like me, it puts you on the offensive if these examples of ineptitude are causing additional stress or harm, and the warpath if they’re also treated with indifference by your customer service representative.

Indifference isn’t strictly limited to tone here – there are several terms that put it on display as well. “Company policy,” “our terms state,” “this is how we handle these situations,” and “buy a new one” are all examples of an indifferent response because they either hide behind litigation or demonstrate there’s only one way the issue can be solved, and you have to pay a price for it.

This is one of the most frustrating elements of working for and with bigger companies, so I’m going to spell this out for them in terms I hope they understand: There is almost always more than one way to solve a problem. A customer in a bad situation like those earlier is largely upset because they aren’t in control of their fate for one reason or another, and nobody enjoys feeling powerless.

This is where the importance of giving them some options can really diffuse a situation. They don’t have to all be options your customer likes – in fact, there may be instances where none of them are to their liking. As long as you’re thorough in what options you provide, however, you’re restoring a measure of control to their situation and trust in your company to do right by them. This can work wonders toward setting a problem right in the eyes of both parties.

The customer is not always right – set expectations from the start of your conversation.

Your customers may have some preconceived notions about your business before walking in the door. Most industries have at least a few myths that you’ll be constantly busting, and caving to some of the ridiculous demands they carry with them is not worth it.

Never forget that you’re the expert in your industry – in almost all cases, you know more than the customer, and can set expectations, educate them, and build rapport through a brief, polite conversation. Not only will this help prevent conflicts from misunderstandings in the future, some may even be grateful that you set them straight!

In a very, very small percentage of scenarios, you’ll find yourself in a situation where a customer’s expectations are unrealistic and/or wrong, their capacity for reason is nonexistent, and their negative emotions are allowed free reign to abuse you.

While the earlier tips will help save you significant grief in over 99% of conversations, these exceptions also exist in the worst of humanity.

While you should never, ever sink to their level, you should also never put yourself in harm’s way for these people either – even if it means a negative review. These rare circumstances are not worth the time, energy, and money you’ll need to appease them, and you’re usually better off firing your customer than trying to invest these precious resources.

This should always be treated as a last resort – your reputation is one of the biggest things that can bring traffic to your business, and even the crazies can harm you when dragging it through the mud. Fortunately, if for every 100 positive reviews you have 1 or 2 negative ones, you’ll still be able to maintain your credibility with ease.

Customer service is simple, but not easy.

A lot of these tips and concepts seem pretty obvious on paper (or your screen), but if you sit down and truly think about them, you might see something you didn’t realize about the way you interact with others. It’s very easy to fall into routines for working with customers, and I’ve been called out on bad habits I didn’t realize I was guilty of on more than one occasion as a result.

At the end of the day, customers are why you have your business. If you strive to provide the best possible experience for every interaction like we do, you’ll have overcome a hurdle many of your competitors have not, and will be able to build a reputation to be proud of as time goes on.

While you’re here, don’t forget about another critical cornerstone of your business – your website! If it has been a few years since you updated yours or are just starting out, give us a call at 319-229-5225. We can do everything from new designs to website makeovers, and take pride in not just meeting, but exceeding your expectations from start to finish.