My husband and I teach a “Customer Experience” class as part of the B.E.S.T. program at the Lighthouse in Annapolis. The Lighthouse is a homeless shelter, and its innovative B.E.S.T. program puts homeless residents and other struggling members of the community on track for employment in culinary and building maintenance positions. Our goal as volunteer instructors is to provide students fundamental customer service skills that will help them land and keep better jobs after they complete the program.
We hope the students leave our class with two big takeaways. First: customer “service” is about the entire “experience” a customer has with you and your team, not just the direct interaction between a client and staff. The service experience extends from the very moment they meet you, to the smells they experience in your building’s bathroom, to the next time they walk in your door or talk to you on the phone. Second, we teach that it is inevitable that things will go wrong and people are going to treat you unfairly, but how you react and treat others in the process is what will matter the most toward your success.
At the end of the class, we provide 10 Tips and Tricks to help them manage these types of situations:
1) Listen first; take a step back before you react. Whenever you find yourself in a tough situation, with either a customer or team member, always take a deep breath and make sure you have a clear understanding of what’s going on before you react. The process of stepping back and evaluating the situation will often expose information and perspective you wouldn’t have noticed had you let your emotions lead your response.
2) It is my job! Regardless of what your job description says, anything that needs to be done to serve the customer is your job. If you can’t do it, ask someone else to help out so it isn’t left undone and forgotten.
3) Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. It’s easy when you feel wronged to only think of your own point of view. Many times, when you take a second to try and understand someone else’s position you’ll actually find that maybe you’re both in the “right” and it’s as simple as just finding a solution that pleases you both.
4) The customer is always right … sort of. The old adage that “the customer is always right” is definitely not true. If you’ve been in client services for even just a week, you know there are some wrong customers out there. Here’s the thing to remember, though: the money only flows one way. “Right” or not, the customer pays you, not vice versa, and your job is to find a solution that nets a happy customer.
5) Envision the end state. Wouldn’t you like your client, team member, or boss to remark on how calm and helpful you were during a challenging situation? Imagine being awarded employee of the month, or getting a great review on Yelp and then work backward to figure out how you might respond in this situation to achieve that goal.
6) You will never regret responding with kindness. We’ve definitely had some pushback on this one, but I stand by it. How many times do you look back and say to yourself, “Man, I really wish I would have reacted in an angrier way!” It’s rare, right? Being kind, even when the communication is hard, is almost always the best choice.
7) Open your eyes (and ears and nose)…everyday. It’s easy to get into a routine and forget to look around to see what needs improvement around you. What is it like to be a customer visiting your business? How are the smells? Is it clean and tidy? Is the signage clear? Are the menus clean? Is it noisy? Again, it’s everyone’s job to provide a positive customer experience, and that works best when the whole team uses all of its senses.
8) Nothing and no one is perfect…it’s all in how you handle imperfection. People are going to disappoint you, and you are going to disappoint others. Working with your customers and teams when something goes wrong is good customer service and good teamwork. Together these create a positive work environment and happy clients.
9) Give your customers and colleagues the benefit of the doubt. A little compassion can go a long way in helping calm a frustrating situation. We’ve all had those days (see #8). You never know what someone else is going through, but it’s easy to assume their aggression or bad attitude means that they are simply out to get you. Instead, try assuming they are just having a rough day and “standing in the solution.” Instead of escalating the tension, reacting with compassion will usually calm the other party down and resolve the situation faster.
10) Be excellent…no matter what. Striving for excellence in your personal and professional life, especially when you’re not “feeling it,” is critical to landing and keeping a job you love. No amount of tips or tricks can make you successful if you don’t inherently care to push yourself to be excellent.
I hope these tips are useful to you and your teams! I would love to hear of any tools you use to keep your teams and clients happy as well!