“If you build it, they will come,” that famous line spoken by Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams may have brought about success for his character, but it doesn’t always work out so well for businesses across the board. You can have the best product or store in the world, but if you haven’t filled your company with employees well-versed in amazing customer service, people won’t be lining up for your product.
There’s an ice cream shop by my house that has decent ice cream, but my first thought is always, “Aw man, I have to deal with the team who scoops the ice cream.” They aren’t mean people but they always act as though they have somewhere else to be. We go there anyway because it’s the closest local ice cream shop around. I keep trying to convince my wife, a former New York City pastry chef and ice cream maker, that we need to open one up . . . then we’ll have ice cream for life!
On the other hand, Denver is also home to Illegal Pete’s, a burrito chain that is a punked-out or hardcore Chipotle. The employees are often skater types, with bushy beards, tattoos, and massive ear gauges. The restaurant design is sort of rustic grungy, with stickers and worn metal covering the walls. The employees here are engaging, helpful, and great to talk with. Customer service skills matter!
Build your business on a foundation of providing an exceptional customer experience by way of even better customer service skills. In the book, The Everything Store, by Brad Stone, he reports that Amazon leaves one chair empty at every board meeting. The empty chair represents the customer and acts as a reminder to executives that they are in the business of customer service.
Anyone can learn customer service skills, however, not everyone can really work them well right off the bat. Some people just belong in the back corner of the lab, hemming and hawing over research, while others were born to be on the floor, all smiles and jokes.
One of the most important aspects of customer service is consistency: deliver greatness every time. Think the Ritz-Carlton experience—employees are expected to make every interaction with a customer memorable. They can go as far as to remember a special request of a regular customer, like putting a scented candle in their room because it calms them after a day of traveling. Great customer service can be as simple as that. In many cases, people are willing to pay more for exceptional service so why not give it to them? We’re not talking about investing tons of resources into this venture. It can be as simple as a smile or a scented candle; just make sure it’s done with every customer, every time.
One great customer service skill is understanding a customer’s mood. Don’t go pushing jokes on a customer that hasn’t laughed at your first joke. But if they’re laughing, go for it. When I was waiting tables in New York City, I was used to being really chatty with my tables, since Coloradans are fairly chatty everywhere. I quickly realized that New Yorkers did not require the conversation and shtick that served me well in Colorado. They just wanted prompt, efficient, and quality service, so needless to say, I cut the shtick.
Which leads me to my next customer service skill: know when a customer is not happy. If employees are immune to this, they won’t be able to fix a problem before the customer leaves and gripes about their experience to friends, family, and maybe even on online review platforms (yikes!). Some anger may be more subtle than others, but an employee with a solid set of customer service skills will be able to recognize both mousy anger and the roar of the lioness. Catch it as fast as you can! It may happen in a face-to-face transaction, later in a customer satisfaction survey, or even go so far as an online review. Wherever you find the anger, strike while the iron is hot by tamping out the flames before they turn into a raging problem.
Next up is to deal with any negativity with a genuine and honest response. It’s important to acknowledge that your customer has had a crummy experience with your brand. Apologize and offer a solution. Empathize with them and tell them that you are listening, taking their qualms to heart, and that you will address the issue. If you end up making any business decisions or changes based off their complaint, let them know and invite them to come back. Remember, most customers just want someone to listen to them!
At all times, good customer service skills include leaving all lines of communication open and available for use between customer and company. Open up that dialogue. Ask your client questions. What went wrong? What can we do? Are you willing to give us a second chance?come back? Just don’t go knocking on the door of a disgruntled customer at 10pm looking for redemption. That’s definitely going too far.
Patience is at the top of the list of customer service skills. Without patience, an employee can’t be successful at any of the other aspects of customer service. Patience helps us swallow our pride and allow the customer to be right, even when they aren’t right. Remember that if a customer posts a review that goes against the platform’s terms and conditions, you can fight back.
Customer service skills go beyond the transaction and are often required after the interaction, like when a customer provides feedback in the form of responding to a survey, posting an online review, or just following up in general. These skills are required at every step of the client journey from start to finish.
Good customer service skills can be taught to your entire team! As you are with your customers, also be patient with your employees, especially the young and less experienced ones as they find their footing in the customer experience world. Provide them with consistent and constructive feedback to build them up. And of course, being a role model always helps.
A successful business rarely makes it with just a good product. Leave that single chair empty to represent the customer because every great business is backed by a great customer experience and customer service skills. Always keep the customer in mind.