"A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he or she is not dependent on us. We are dependent on them. They are not an interruption in our work. They are the purpose of it. They are not an outsider in our business. They are a part of it. We are not doing them a favor by serving them. They are doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so."
-Kenneth B. Elliott, former executive vice president of Studebaker Corp.
According to businessdictionary.com customer service is defined as “all interactions between a customer and a product provider, both at the time of sale and thereafter.” Customer service is commonly associated with hospitality and commercial industries. However, treatment of the customer is a facet of any industry with a client, it is not only related to professions defined in the “customer service industry.” Good customer service is even an essential part of consulting projects; consultants must always act in the best interest of the customer.
Customer service is based in being able to relate well with others and demonstrate empathy rather than apathy. Customer service skills do not necessarily come naturally, but can be acquired and honed as part of one’s professional growth and development. Below are 13 skills that are important to acquire to improve one’s customer service skills and professional interactions:
- Be Patient: Not only is patience important to customers who often reach out for support when they are confused and frustrated, but it is also important to the business at large: great service beats fast service every single time. When dealing with customers daily be sure to stay patient when they come to you confused and dissatisfied, but also be sure to take the time to truly figure out what they want. At times customers will get upset and your job will be difficult, but being patient will help you to deliver better service to your customers. Additionally, this will sometimes require answering the same question or addressing the same issue for several people in a short period of time. In these instances, it is important to remember that even if you have answered a question 20 times in a row, the person you are speaking with has only asked it once.
- Listen Well and Actively: The ability to really listen to the customer is critical to providing great service. It is crucial to pay attention to individual customer participation and be observant and aware of the feedback that is received as a whole.
- Communicate Clearly and Positively: Pronouncing words clearly, speaking loudly, and using an upbeat tone helps you communicate clearly and positively with customers. When writing or emailing customers, be sure to use proper grammar and spelling and choose words and phrases that impart an optimistic manner. Make sure you are quickly getting to the problem at hand. It is important to be cautious about how some communication habits are translated to customers. Be concise.
- Know When and How to Apologize: If a mistake is made own up to it and provide a solution to fix it. Apologize sincerely to a customer and inform them immediately about what is being done to fix the issue. Value the customer complaints; while complaints are unfavorable this feedback will allow improvements to be made to your services. However, be sure to not over-apologize, as this can be seen as “weak” or unprofessional, especially if done in a consulting context for unnecessary things.
- Anticipate the Needs of the Customer: After you have worked with a client for some time, you can start to anticipate their needs, whether they are industry standard needs or just client preferences. Anticipating the needs of a customer is a characteristic of customer service that will quickly set one apart from their competitors, as the customer feels known, understood, and assisted without having to ask. As an example, I once had a customer to whom I provided reports every month. After receiving them, she would three-hole punch them and put them in a binder. After our first meeting, I would always ensure that the reports were three-hole punched before I delivered them to her. While this may seem small, it took one more task off her “plate” and lightened her load to focus on other, more important work.
- Get to Know the Customer(s): Remembering the customer’s name, their needs, some of their interests, facts about their life outside of work, and the like fosters camaraderie and even friendship with the customer. It also improves your customer service, as it allows you to anticipate their needs and desires before they have to ask.
- Maintain Calm Presence: When working with customers it is important to stay calm and influence others or control situations when things get a little hectic. It is difficult to remain calm when a customer thinks the world is falling apart due to their current problem. However, being able to maintain one’s “cool” and help a client in these situations rather than joining in with them is an essential trait of customer service.
- Be Tenacious: A great work ethic and a propensity to do what needs to be done is a key skill when providing the kind of service that people talk about and expect. There are many impressive customer service stories (many of which had a huge effect on the business) that were created by a single employee who refused to do just the minimum when it came to helping the customer. Always remember that customers are people too, knowing that and putting in the extra effort will provide benefits to the company or organization ten times over.
- Respect Everyone, especially the Customer: Simple manners should be used always, but other factors that can make the customer feel respected include addressing them by their title and only using their first name if they have disclosed that this is what they prefer. Also, ensure that the customer is not interrupted when they are speaking and wait until they have finished before responding.
- Determine to Solve Problems: If a customer has a problem then this should be resolved as soon as possible. The customer should be made to feel that any concerns that they have are well-founded and that everything is being done to solve the problem in a quick and timely manner.
- Be a Team Player: Teamwork is a vital part of giving great customer service. Sometimes a team member will need to assist you to solve a very difficult issue. Bad relations within the team makes for bad service. Like a soccer team working together to set up the perfect goal, every member on the team has a role to play in performing the different tasks on the job and this will require working together.
- Be Reliable: One of the most important aspects of the job is being there when the customer needs you most. This means turning up for the job on time, being present during difficult times, and following up on what you have promised to do.
- Use Positive Language: Using positive language that motivates and encourages people will not only reach your customers, but it will encourage your teammates and improve the product, delivery, and service overall.
While customer service skills are “soft skills,” they are critical to the development and maintenance of professional relationships. With focus and practice you can build and improve them. Honing these skills can make the difference between delivering mediocre service and superior service and can differentiate your company from the competition when trying to attract and retain clients.