Three Foundations of Customer Service

Its come to my attention lately, that many companies and individuals lack the critical insight and skills needed to deliver successful customer service. I’m sure many of you have had a similar situation either on the phone or in-person, when your request or inquiry was met with resistance and an unwillingness to perform a task even as your hard earned money was at stake. As consumers, we expect our money and time to be valued by our vendors, and expect a certain degree of customer service to be extended to us. We are not asking for the red carpet to be tossed under our feet, but we are asking for a polite and educated response to our needs in a timely fashion.

I myself have never taken a single class or seminar on customer service. Everything I have learned is from the working world of advertising and development companies who each were excellent in dealing with customer service. In fact, it was a critical part to my role at each company, and remains even more so now as the proprietor of my own company. It’s easy to learn fast in an environment where your peers and supervisors insist on customer service and taking responsibility for your company’s image in the eye of the customer. We will all have our pit falls, and blunders, but these are inevitable when growing and learning the role of a customer service representative.

In sighting a recent encounter of mine, it has prompted me to recount the basic principals of customer service for myself and reminder of what will drive my company’s growth. Great products will only go so far, great service will take you anywhere you want to go. So in review here are my principal foundations of customer service.

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Know your customer.
In a business where customers come and go regularly, it might be easy to forget a job or a specific detail, when they come calling. It reminds me of a time when I went to a dentist, who while sitting in his chair asked me where I received the crown on my back molar. I guess he had forgotten that he installed that jewel on my tooth only three short months ago. Needless to say, I never returned to that dentist. As a customer, I felt that an eight-hundred dollar bill would ensure that he at least remember that he installed it, let alone my name or other previous history with the office. Its just too easy to take a few moments to take notes or pull a file to really understand where your clients is coming from and what relationship you have with them.

Be responsive.
If there is one thing I learned from my first job it was that clients need a response, not always an answer. Specifically saying that when a client emails you, you may not know the answer, but you can surely respond to them and let them know that you are on the case and will reply again shortly. Nothing feels better to a client than to have a vendor be responsive. The printing industry has been a great example of this for me, as they are always responsive to you needs and inquires. Perhaps it’s the competitive business climate of the industry at this point, but you would be hard pressed to find a printer who is not responsive. If they are not, it’s just a matter of time before they will be out of business themselves.

Be Honest.
There is nothing more irritating in my line of work than “spin” or what everyone else calls deception. Your clients do not need you to lie to them saying everything is OK, when its not. I’ve played on both sides of this coin for the past six years at other companies, and for the past year I’ve done nothing but be open and honest with my clients, and its been amazing. Communication has flourished and I have better relationships with these clients because of it. Deception is a road to nowhere, and in every case I can remember has only lead to heartache and dismissal of staff, or clients walking away. Technical jargon, blame, and redirecting all fall into this category as tactics to not be open and honest with your clients as well. People want plain straight answers, and they want the product done right. They always have, and always will. Know your client, and you will know how to answer appropriately with their interests at heart.

With these three foundations, great customer service can almost be an after thought. There is a huge industry for training and books on customer service and rightfully so. Many companies still don’t get it. I’m sure there are many ways to learn, and some great pieces of information out there. I recommend reading as many posts, books, and articles on the subject as you can but these three foundations above are a gentle prerequisite to that journey.

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