Customer Service: Grounded in a Statement

When I was in high school I, like many of my classmates, decided that a practical class to take would be something in business, so I took DECA, as one of my courses.  DECA, which stands for Distributive Education Clubs of America, taught me many important lessons on things like store security, advertising, and of course customer service.  At the end of the class, we were supposed to give a presentation on a specific area, and mine was store security; more specific in my case was money, and how to spot counterfeit bills.

It was a result of this class that I started to develop what would later become my customer service statement, which is “I am not here to give customers what they want, but to give them what they need, and to help them make the most of what they have.”  Keeping focus on this statement has continued to help me give customers the best service I have in my power to give, for years.

Customer service is the culmination of what you’ve learned, and what you believe when it comes to how you treat relationships with individuals in a business setting.  Your interactions with customers will either enforce, or alter your beliefs in this matter, but when you take the time to write it down in a statement, it gives you a solid foundation to work from.  There are many situations I’ve personally come across that would have ruined my relationship with my customers if I didn’t have something to work from.

If you are in contact with customers on a regular basis, whether employee, owner, or self- employed, it would be a good Idea for you to come up with a customer service statement, that will  leave your relationship with your customers on solid ground.  I don’t want you to just copy mine, because you need to put it in your own words; this is the only way you can make it a part of your own business experience.  I will, however, go over the thought process behind my statement in order to help make coming up with your own a little easier.

I AM NOT HERE TO GIVE CUSTOMERS WHAT THEY WANT

I don’t know who said it first, but no phrase in business makes me want to slap someone across the face more than “The customer is always right.”  Not only is this not true, but it has destroyed more business, customer relationships than any other philosophy in customer service.  Some customers want everything free, they want it now, and they don’t care if you break the rules as long as you give them what they want; in short, they want everything for nothing.  That is a very fast way to losing your business.

I used to work at Burger King (yes, I admit it.) and I was working the drive through.  We had a customer pull up to the speaker, and I began with my cheerful “Welcome to Burger King, how may I help you?”  To which the customer replied, “I’m not ready yet.”

“Just let me know when you’re ready to order.”

“OK, I’ll let you know.”  He replied.

5 minutes passed, then seven, which is when I asked, “Would you like a little more time?”

“Of course not,” he snapped, “I’ve been waiting here for ten minutes, for you to take my order.”  He quickly placed his order, and sped up to the window.  The moment I opened the window to accept the money, and give him the food, he started yelling at the top of his voice how we had the worst customer service, and how it was supposed to be “FAST” food, then asked for the manager.  The whole tirade I never said a word, because I figure it was better to let him vent, than to give him the satisfaction of letting him ruin my day.

The manager came to the window, and after the customer gave her an earful, she held up her hand, and said, “Then, sir, you should have never told him you would let him know when you were ready.” As the customer drove away red faced, and humiliated, I said in the most pleasant voice I could, “Thank you, have a nice day.”

In this case, the customer was both wrong and trying to bring me down with him. In many cases the customer will be wrong.  It does no good to yell back, because that will bring your day down, and prove the customer right.  The best way to deal with an irate customer is to acknowledge their error in a patient, and respectful manner.  They may have had a bad day, and are looking for someone to take it out on, so look for every opportunity to make their day better, instead of fueling their anger.

GIVE THEM WHAT THEY NEED

I don’t care what you do for a living, sales, marketing, service, whatever it is, your customers are coming to you to meet a specific need.  You wouldn’t go to a church to buy an apple, and you wouldn’t go the produce section of a grocery store to find Jesus, unless he needs an apple.

There are two very important things you need in order to supply your customers with what they need.  One is knowledge of what you are supplying.  If your job is selling computers, a good knowledge of computers can help your customers make an informed decision.  If, however, your knowledge is poor, your customer can end up with a piece of crap, and you could lose the sale, and the customer.

The other thing you absolutely need is the ability to listen.  Customer service is all about maintaining a relationship between a business, and the customer.  At the core of all successful relationships is communication, and a key to communicating effectively is listening to the entire message of the other person.  When you try to get ahead of the conversation, or cut the other person off before they’ve had a chance to finish speaking, you miss important parts of their message, and that could lead to miscommunication, and the ruin of that relationship.

One of the jobs I had was working at Inness Photo.  This is one of those stores that processes photographs, and sells cameras.  Being a nature photographer, I understand cameras, and what people can use to get the shots they want.  I can’t count the number of times a customer came in with a copy of Consumer Reports looking for the wrong camera.  The best example I can think of, and there are a lot, is the customer looking for a point and shoot to photograph birds.

Most birds are unapproachable, and point and shoots don’t have the range to get close enough to most birds.  She pointed at the 12x digital zoom, and I told her about the differences between digital, and optical zoom.  In the end, what I sold her was a Canon Digital SLR with a 300mm through 600mm zoom.

She came in a couple of weeks later to print her pictures, and to let us know how happy she was with the purchase.

HELP THEM GET THE MOST OUT OF WHAT THEY HAVE

This part of my statement came from my own philosophy of helping people get the most out of what they already possess.  I think the company that best illustrates their commitment to helping customers get more from what they have, is Best Buy.  In order to help customers who aren’t computer savvy, but who own computers, they came up with the Geek Squad.  Not only have they helped me find a decent computer, that fit in my budget, and equip it with the latest version of Microsoft Office, but they have fielded my calls with computer questions, and helped me in wonderful ways.

Another thing that has happened numerous times, at Inness Photo, is that customers will come in looking for help with camera equipment that they can’t yet figure out.  It was for these types of customers that I added this to my statement.

If I sell a camera to a customer and send them away, I would be no better than Walmart, whose sales staff, in my personal experience, knows less about the products than the customers.  If you can help people achieve more from a computer, camera, phone, whatever they have, you can not only gain a possible customer that you didn’t have before, but you can also keep an existing customer that you might have lost if you couldn’t help them.

This isn’t limited to just products. You can help customers get the most out of a service you offer, to help them save time, and money.

Here is something that just happened to me recently to illustrate this. My wife, and I have been Verizon customers for a number of years, and last February our latest contract was up.  It was time to see about their latest deal to upgrade from the I-phone 4.  I did a little research, and with the amount I saved up, I was able to go up to an I-phone 5.  I thought it was a great deal, so I went to Verizon to exchange my old phone.

The sales representative pulled up my account and shocked me with a bit of good news.  He informed me that as good customers, with a long history, we qualified for the edge program which meant we could get the 5s for a few dollars each month instead of paying for the phone now, and the only thing I would have to pay for at this moment would be any accessories I might want.  On top of that, because of staying with them so long, our monthly bills could go down, instead of up.

I agreed to the 5s, got the Otter Box, to protect my phone, and took the service changes, which ends up taking ten dollars off my monthly bill.  As he was processing my order, he made the comment that saving customers like that is great for the customers, but probably not for Verizon.  I told him what I will tell you now.  What he did was the best thing he could ever do for Verizon, to which he gave me a puzzled look.  I told him that what he did was keep a customer for Verizon.  It was his concern to save the customer money, and give the best deal that will keep me coming back anytime I need a new accessory, or help with a problem.

I’ve been working with customers, in one way or other, for over 37 years, and maintaining a good relationship with those customers, using this statement as my guide.  As you come up with a statement of your own, some of you will do it in only a few minutes, and some of you will take a while longer.  It doesn’t matter how long you take, just make sure it is a true reflection of your customer relations philosophy, and that it benefits both you, and the customer.

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